HARWICH — The committee and volunteers who operate the Treasure Chest, the swap shop at the recycling center, are coming under new scrutiny following some public complaints. While town officials say better leadership should smooth out the problems, Selectman Jannell Brown last week floated the idea of shuttering the program.
Brown, the board's liaison to the Treasure Chest committee, said most of the public complaints were about rude volunteers or workers who were receiving donations “and putting them right into their cars to take home.”
Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said part of the committee's charge indicates that the Treasure Chest should recycle items and make them available to people who need them. Since it was established, “it's become completely unmanageable,” MacAskill said. People come from all over Cape Cod to swap items, and there have been allegations that some regular visitors are taking items to sell online or in yard sales.
The operation requires more supervision than selectmen or a volunteer committee can provide, MacAskill said. “Nobody is really in charge over there,” he added. Selectmen learned that appointed committee members had left and were replaced with new members who were never sworn in or received required ethics training. “We didn't know who they were,” he said. Some of the committee members and volunteers don't even live in Harwich, MacAskill noted.
Still, MacAskill said, the Treasure Chest is a viable operation that serves an important need.
Town Administrator Christopher Clark told the board he met with key committee members and DPW Director Lincoln Hooper and feels that improvements are coming.
“They're headed on a good path,” he said. While Hooper favors allowing the operation to be led by volunteers, he plans to appoint one of the volunteers as a supervisor who would be in charge of handling shift scheduling and coordination.
Selectman Don Howell said having a supervisor makes sense, but that individual should be appointed by the appointed Treasure Chest committee, not the public works director.
Board member Julie Kavanagh said she favors controls on out-of-town visitors, since Harwich taxpayers foot the bill for disposing of items that aren't recycled.
“Through the years, it's probably been our most contentious committee,” Selectman Larry Ballantine said. The goal, ultimately, is to save the town money by reducing the waste stream, he noted.
Brown noted that, while she has long supported recycling, there are already thrift shops and non-profit boutiques that provide used clothing and household items to people in need. The Treasure Chest “has morphed into something that we cannot control,” she said. It also costs the town about $10,000 each year to keep the operation going, she noted.
Further, Brown said there is a $250,000 request in the town's capital budget for a new maintenance workshop for the town's facilities manager, and the building housing the Treasure Chest might be ideal for that purpose.
Eric Fahle, the interim chairman of the Treasure Chest committee, said the committee has new leadership, and the incoming chairman, vice-chairman and clerk are all year-round Harwich residents.
“The Treasure Chest is just a wonderful operation,” he said. “The number of people we help is astounding.” Fahle said he's sorry to hear about the complaints.
“We can't make everybody happy. We do what we can,” he said. Fahle said he does not favor the practice of people taking items for resale, and the committee's previous leader, Pauline Ashton, didn't tolerate it. Fahle said he agrees that the operation can benefit from more organization, and committee members have pledged to catch up on their mandatory ethics training.
MacAskill said he intends to bring the topic back before the board soon for some key decisions about the Treasure Chest operation.