This week, Selectmen voted to move the Annual Town Meeting to open Wednesday, May 4th at Algonquin, with a second night likely on the 5th. To avoid the possibility of running into a third night, the meeting will open at 6:30 pm.
Town Clerk Jim Hegarty pointed out that the first section of the meeting includes a lot of administration items. That means the early start should still allow those who have trouble getting there that early to arrive in time to vote on items they care about.
Many readers are aware that Town Meeting passed a bylaw a few years back to have ATM open on a Saturday in March. So, why a weeknight in May?
The bylaw was passed in an effort to encourage families with young children to participate. The idea was that parents are less likely to attend on weeknights and later in the spring conflicts due to youth sports prevent them from attending on a Saturday.
Earlier this year, selectmen heard from residents who were worried about holding a large gathering indoors in March. The Board has the authority to change the meeting date. They decided to plan for a delay to find a way to host a meeting voters felt safe attending. (It’s worth noting that a significant percent of faithful Town Meeting voters are seniors.)
Selectmen, the Town Clerk and Moderator considered options for an outdoor meeting. Due to weather concerns, they wanted to wait until later in the spring. Once March was out, they wondered whether parents would still prefer a Saturday or if a weeknight would be better. So, the Town issued a survey to youth sports leagues in town.
In a January meeting, the board stated that just over 60 people had responded. The results weren’t publicly shared. At their February 1st meeting, Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski summarized what she took away from reading results: parents didn’t want athletic fields closed for an outdoor meeting, would prioritize youth sports if there was a conflict, and would otherwise find a way to attend if they were interested. That meant a Saturday later this spring wasn’t ideal.
If the meeting is indoors, selectmen wanted enough space to allow people to distance themselves. Trottier would be too tight to allow a large turnout. (According to Hegarty, a handful of extra voters at the Special Town Meeting last fall would have put them over capacity and required them to adjourn the meeting.)
Under an Article passed at the Fall meeting, selectmen are able to hold the meeting in a neighboring town. Algonquin has a larger capacity to allow more voters with room for spacing. But the school apparently isn’t able to accommodate the Town Meeting until May. Based on selectmen’s schedules, plus a desire to not push the meeting too close to the end of the fiscal year, they selected May 4th and 5th.
In an outline shared with Selectmen on Tuesday night, Hegarty estimated Algonquin’s capacity as 445 voters with 6 foot spacing. For Trottier, he estimated 355 – which is higher than the stated capacity last fall. (It looks like he included the cafeteria as a potential third overflow room – something that wasn’t set up for the last Special Town Meeting. Algonquin would only need to use one overflow area.)
Generally, Town Meetings don’t draw enough voters to worry about needing over 355 seats. However, what’s on the Warrant in a given year can change that. Special Town Meetings in 2016 and 2017 drew in about 680 and 720 voters. There was no discussion this week about how they will handle it if turnout is higher than 445. (Though, Algonquin can accommodate up to 1,800 voters if no distancing is enforced.)
An unrelated item of interest came up in Tuesday’s discussion – Selectman Marty Healey shared that since he will be traveling for a few months this fall, he isn’t running for re-election to his seat this spring.