A West Tisbury employee will be leaving her position with the town because of her “personal decision” not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The employee was not present during the meeting, though the board spoke openly about her, using her name and position.
While the West Tisbury select board revealed the name of the individual who chose not to be vaccinated, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s technical assistance release from May advises that an employee’s vaccination status must remain confidential as medical information, per the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Asked by phone why they spoke about the employee openly, West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said this “wasn’t inappropriate” since it was an employee breaking town policy rather than a discussion about a medical issue. Rand said if the topic was about a medical issue, the board would have gone into executive session.
The town implemented a vaccine mandate for its employees in August, who were given until Sept. 30 to become vaccinated or apply for either a religious or a medical exemption. West Tisbury strengthened the policy to a town hall mandate for workers in the building later in the month. In early September, West Tisbury added several more buildings to this mandate, including Howes House.
The Times, which has decided not to name the woman, reached out to her to ask why she made the decision, but she declined to comment, and hung up the phone.
“People that chose not to get the vaccine had an opportunity to, I believe, to apply for one of two exemptions,” West Tisbury chair Skipper Manter said. “Also, there was an opportunity to make reasonable accommodations for individuals that chose not to get vaccinated but could still … perform the essential job without being actually present at their job.”
Manter said the woman’s supervisor told the board that the remote work wasn’t working “about a third of the time,” and she “really needed a person in the building.” The supervisor requested that the woman stay with the department until she trained her replacement. The woman is willing to help with the training, including information technology work, before she is terminated. The woman will continue working remotely during that time.
Select board member Cynthia Mitchell made a motion to allow the woman to work remotely until her replacement has been hired and trained. The board unanimously approved the motion.
In other business, the board unanimously approved adding the select board report to the West Tisbury town report. A decision on the cemetery report was delayed to give Manter time to properly read it.
The board unanimously approved an increase to the West Tisbury building department’s inspection fees by $5 to support the inspectors’ pay raise.
Meanwhile, the board unanimously approved the Howes House feasibility study committee’s request to place an article on the town meeting warrant. The article would allow the committee to get an architect to “work the feasibility study” and possibly make construction documents from the study. Articles for the warrant are due by Feb. 15, according to Rand. In full disclosure, Manter said both he and Mitchell both serve on that committee.
The town will be looking for a new member of the Howes House feasibility committee. Mitchell will be stepping down because she was not able to attend the meetings because of conflicting schedules with her work.
The board unanimously approved the West Tisbury finance committee’s recommendation to use excess and deficiencies (E and D) funds to reduce the Up-Island Regional School District budget’s assessment. Manter expressed some resistance to the idea. He and Up-Island school committee member Robert Lionette said in past meetings that using E and D funds was an irresponsible way to cover parts of the budget. However, he was supportive of using E and D on the assessment.
“I’m really caving in here,” Manter said with a chuckle. “Better be careful, my reputation is at stake, whatever that is.”
The town also received a letter from the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank member Laura Silber to request a change on how bonding is voted. Doug Ruskin, a member of the coalition steering committee, explained that the change is to make the town advisory board’s deciding vote a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority. The board decided to place it on next week’s agenda so the public has a chance to hear the change of this “popular topic.”