WHITMAN — COVID-19’s effect on the annual Town Meeting and Election process, was discussed by the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, May 5.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam said a question has arisen concerning employees working on alternate schedules being brought back in to work together.
“So long as we could ensure social distancing in safe environments … we could bring more of the staff back to work on a regular work week basis,” Lynam said about a letter he sent to department managers, copied to the Board of Selectmen. “I have to see how that goes over the next few days [and] who is looking to make what adjustments.”
He said how the process works will not be clear until “more and more people return to the open market” over the next several weeks.
Coronavirus will also have an effect on how Town Meeting is operated as well as when it convenes. The board voted to schedule the annual Town Meeting on Monday, June 22, with the possibility that it could be pushed back again.
Should social distancing regulations force the spacing of Town Meeting participants to keep six feet from each other the entire seating area of the Town Hall auditorium would only fit 100 people, Lynam said. He has reached out to Superintendent of School Jeffrey Szymaniak about the possibility of holding Whitman’s Town Meeting at either the high school gym or the Performing Arts Center.
“The only wrinkle in that is that the school is located in Hanson and state law requires that the meeting be held in Whitman,” Lynam said. “I would argue that the mailing address for the school is 600 Franklin St., Whitman.”
He asked for a legal opinion about it from Town Counsel, adding that Senate Bill 2680 was filed, which, if passed — and indications are that it will be, according to Lynam — would allow Whitman to hold Town Meeting at the school or other out-of-town facility.
Szymaniak said Whitman could use the high school if needed.
Finance Committee member John Galvin asked if, in view of Baker’s statement that limits on public gatherings could be increased on May 18 back to 50 from the 10 persons now permitted, raises the question of whether that allows for town meetings to be held.
“I believe not, because it involves voting rights,” Lynam said, noting that residents must be given 20 days’ notice for registering to vote at a town meeting. “The state is adamant about not depriving people of the opportunity to vote.”
He said the attendance limit may not apply to government meetings, either.
Selectmen also discussed a feasibility study for Whitman Middle School, with Selectman Brian Bzanson suggesting it be expanded to include the possibility of a junior-senior high school in case Hanson pushes to de-regionalize. Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said the same thought had occurred to him.
Lynam said bidding guidelines would require a separate study for such a scenario.
“I like the idea, I just don’t think it’s practical,” Lynam said.
De-regionalization, if it were to happen, would be a long process, selectmen noted.