This week, the Board of Selectmen rescheduled Annual Town Meeting to open at 10:00 am on Saturday, May 22nd. The date was agreed upon in a discussion between selectmen, the Town Clerk, and the Town Moderator.
The selected date still allows the Moderator to postpone the meeting further if needed due to weather or other emergency circumstances.
The new schedule allows selectmen to wait longer to close and print the Town Meeting Warrant. It sounded as though the Board would still target April 20th for closing the Warrant, but they have more flexibility to push that out if needed.
Before selecting a date, officials eliminated some weekends as posing conflicts for residents (like Memorial Day weekend and the weekend of Algonquin’s graduation).
Initially, Moderator Paul Cimino urged for an earlier meeting in May to allow more time if the meeting needed to be pushed out. Board members appeared wary that would force a tight deadline for closing the Warrant. Town Clerk Jim Hegarty reminded that last year there was confusion over budgets that were different on the floor than in the Warrant. (Note: That isn’t an infrequent circumstance – but the inability to project to a screen the details of what residents were voting on seemed to make it worse last year.)
Most selectmen appeared to believe that waiting until June was more likely to run into days too hot for a long meeting outdoors. (Officials noted that many Articles were tabled last year and still the meeting ran 4-5 hours.)
They also worried about a meeting potentially getting pushed past June 18th due to delays. Selectman Chelsea Malinowski projected a “mass exodus” of families following that last day of school. May 22nd was settled on.
Officials then agreed on a morning opening, since opening a second session at night wouldn’t work. While the logistics aren’t detailed yet, Cimino and Hegarty indicated they had already discussed bringing in food trucks.
How many days and meetings will it take?
This year’s Warrant is currently planned to contain 42 Articles. Anything controversial could spark long debates. Many of last year’s Articles were tabled for just that reason. At least one Article that wasn’t on last year’s Warrant is expected to be controversial (the Downtown District zoning changes). And another controversial request could be on the way. (Selectmen are exploring asking voters for permission to sell off another historic municipal property – the South Union School building. I’ll cover that in a future post.)
At multiple points in Tuesday’s meeting, officials referenced the potential of a Special Fall Town Meeting. At the end of the night, resident Timothe Litt commented that he thought planning for that was a bad idea, given how selectmen determined they couldn’t execute that last year. He advised planning on getting all of the Town’s business done this spring.
[Note: I can point out one significant factor that’s different this year. Last year, the Town Clerk’s office was responsible for overseeing the November election including in-person early voting for both and an extensive mail-in effort. That ruled out much of the window for when an outdoor meeting could have been viable last fall. There are no elections slated for this fall.]
During this week’s scheduling discussion, Hegarty briefed the Board on the costs for running the Town Meetings outdoors this year.
The first ATM weekend is estimated to cost $21,000. He said that if it could be kept to one day, the Town would save $5,000. (That’s a long shot. Especially since in the scheme of the Town’s large budget, $5K isn’t likely to motivate voters to curtail debates over much larger ticket items or choices that could have significant impacts on the community.)
A second stand-alone day on a subsequent weekend – either for a continued Annual Town Meeting or a Special Town Meeting in the fall – would cost an additional $15,000.