WHITMAN — After a 45-minute start delay in an effort to meet the 150-voter quorum requirement, Whitman’s special Town Meeting took only 10 minutes or so to pass the three warrant articles by wide margins.
A transfer of $256,752.62 from capital stabilization was passed by an 83 percent to 17 percent margin to fund costs involved in structural changes at WHRHS to accommodate moving the district’s pre-kindergarten program from Maquan School.
Voters also authorized the town — through the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator — to enter into contracts for energy purchases or net metering contracts for terms of up to 20 years. The measure passed by an 87 percent to 13-percent margin.
Both articles passed with no discussion.
Voters also moved forward a protective zoning bylaw prohibiting all types of non-medical marijuana establishments in town by an 81 percent to 19-percent margin.
The issue must now pass a special Town Election from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, March 17 for the ban to go on the books. All precincts vote in the Town Hall Auditorium.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner expressed gratitude for the passage of pre-K transfer costs, noting the passage allows work at the high school to begin over April vacation week.
Officials were, however, dismayed by the time taken to reach a quorum. At the 7:30 p.m. start time there were only about 105 voters in the Town Hall auditorium, prompting a flurry of texting friends, family and neighbors to attract more voters. Town Administrator Frank Lynam also broadcast about a half-dozen appeals over the live cable access feed, urging viewers to drive over to the meeting and guaranteeing they would be done in less than a half hour.
He was right, as even with the pre-vote refresher on using electronic voting devices and reading of the meeting call took less than 15 minutes.
Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski chalked up the sparse attendance to the upcoming storm and the fact that people were likely at the store stocking up on milk and bread or gassing up generators.
“It’s tough to get people out sometimes,” Town Moderator Michael Seele agreed. “There’s a storm coming and everything else. It was great that we got the quorum, we got the business done that we needed to get done.”
When quorum was achieved it was greeted with an enthusiastic round of applause.
Lynam, however, said the struggle for a quorum was more likely a symptom of apathy.
“People are becoming very apathetic,” Lynam said. “Governing is work.”
He said that makes it hard for the Town Meeting system to remain viable.
“Certainly in the last few meetings [it would] indicate that there is not a lot of enthusiasm for Town Meeting,” Lynam said.
The only questions asked during the session involved the exact result of a yes vs. a no vote on the marijuana prohibition bylaw and why a special election is also required.
“If this sounds familiar, it’s because we already voted in a general bylaw,” Lynam told voters. “The Canabis Control Commission is also seeking towns vote to establish a protective zoning bylaw. A yes vote will prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana for the town of Whitman.”
He also explained that the March 17 special Town Election is necessary due to state requirements. That ballot, containing only the marijuana question, has exactly the same language as the warrant article.
After the meeting, Kowalski noted that Whitman voters had voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016 and might repeat that vote. But Lynam said he wasn’t so sure that the vote would be reprised.
“I think the majority will support the prohibition question,” Lynam said. “The question is why. What did they vote for [in 2016]? Did they vote to have marijuana in Whitman or did they vote to decriminalize it so that young people being arrested for having marijuana would not have their lives ruined by a conviction?”
He said people he has talked to about the issue have indicated that, while they voted for the legalization ballot question, they only wanted to prevent making people criminals for possession of marijuana alone.