Selectmen seeking to avoid printing an early Town Meeting Warrant

by beth on February 23, 2021

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The Board of Selectmen will discuss “rescheduling” Annual Town Meeting instead of “postponing” it. The hope is to avoid printing a Warrant in early March that doesn’t reflect the reality of what voters will be asked to approve later this spring.

The Town Moderator has announced plans to postpone Annual Town Meeting until it can reasonably be held outside (possibly May or June). In his statement in January, Moderator Paul Cimino indicated that selectmen would be seeking a finalized Warrant by April 20th. More recently, officials were dismayed to learn that deadline needed to be pushed to early March.

Town officials have been grappling with procedures required under the Town Code and state law.

Selectmen discussed possible work arounds during last week’s meeting. To avoid stepping on the Town Moderator’s toes by not consulting him, the Board agreed to schedule a discussion for their next meeting on March 2nd.

The issue

Under the Town Code, the Annual Town Meeting must be scheduled to open March 20th (or on an earlier Saturday). The Moderator is able to push that meeting out by 30 days at a time, but not reschedule it. It would still be considered the March 20th meeting, just held on a later day.

Under state law, the Warrant needs to be printed and posted at least 7 days prior to the meeting’s scheduled date. Prior to printing, the Town needs the Warrant to be reviewed by Town Counsel. Officials recently learned that meant Articles need to be submitted in early March. 

Yet, Town Meeting isn’t likely to be held until at least May. That should give boards and committees extra time to work through budgets and fine-tune complicated Articles. 

Motions can be made at Annual Town Meeting to amend Warrant Articles on the floor. Still, that can lead to voter confusion.

The Proposed Solution

Last year, the process was a moot point. The Warrant was already posted before officials realized the meeting would need to be postponed. 

When the issue was called into question this winter, Town Administrator Mark Purple reached out to State Representative Carolyn Dykema. She followed up with the Attorney General’s office for clarification.

At last week’s BOS meeting, Chair Marty Healey said that in an email, Dykema’s passed on good news from the AG’s office.*

Under state law, the board can apparently reschedule the meeting due to emergency safety issues. With the Governor’s State of Emergency still in place, that would mean selectmen have the authority to move the meeting to a date later this spring. The Warrant deadline would then move with it.

Another potential solution referenced was from the Town Clerk. He had suggested scheduling a Special Town Meeting. Healey also mentioned that he had thought of another option, but believed the rescheduling solution was the better one.

*Healey noted that the message wasn’t an “official” legal opinion. He wasn’t sure if the language was Dykema’s recap or a cut and paste of specific language in an AG’s office communication. But he did find language in Mass General Law that supported the finding.

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