WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen Tuesday, March 24, opted to delay any decision on whether the May 4 annual Town Meeting would be rescheduled until it meets again, via Zoom online conferencing app, on Tuesday, April 7 or April 21.
All other town boards are already using Zoom to conduct meetings. Hanson boards have moved to teleconferencing as well. WHCA TV will continue to broadcast recordings of the public meetings.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam and Selectmen Vice Chairman Daniel Salvucci were the only officials attending the meeting in person, with Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski and Selectmen Brian Bezanson, Justin Evans and Randy LaMattina attending via telephone.
The town by-laws call for the annual Town Meeting to be held on the first Monday in May and the Town Election on the third Saturday in May.
Lynam noted that Hanson Selectmen have vote to change their Town Meeting to June 15.
“I have discussed our schedule with the chair of the Finance Committee and, individually, with a couple of selectmen as well as some department heads,” Lynam said. “I believe that the town of Whitman is able to meet the May 4 schedule.”
He said the board’s decision would have to be based, in part, on whether they felt it was necessary since Hanson changed its schedule.
“I would think the only thing that would get in the way of a May 4 meeting or a May 16 election is the coronavirus pandemic,” Kowalski said.
Lynam noted that the town of Southwick held it’s Town Meeting that very night — in a parking lot, suggesting that residents car-pool, park behind a school and meet in an athletic field.
“And so, flash the lights once for yea and twice for nay?” Kowalski quipped.
“I guess there’s options other than the usual Town Meeting, but we don’t know now what’s going to happen on May 4,” Lynam said. “We don’t know that we’ll be ready from the social standpoint to meet of not, but one of the features that are being offered … is the ability of the Board of Selectmen to reduce quorum in order to hold meetings.”
The quorum for an annual Town Meeting is 50, but a quorum of 150 is needed for a special Town Meeting, Lynam said, advocating that some articles, that would take effect in the current fiscal year, be shifted from the special to the annual warrant to permit votes on them. Lynam said he is awaiting an opinion from Town Counsel on the proposal.
LaMattina advised a delay in deciding the Town Meeting date until the board’s next meeting to “see how this situation is playing out.”
Lynam said he wasn’t sure it was a decision that had to be made now, but wanted to raise the question for Selectmen to consider and to let everyone know that Hanson had changed it’s schedule. He said a decision on the Town Meeting date could be delayed until mid- to late April. The town needs to provide 20 days’ notice for a Town Election and seven days’ notice to post a Town Meeting date.
“Normally, we don’t utilize that time, but this is an extraordinary time,” Lynam said.
Evans raised a question about absentee voting, noting that current rules permit it only if one will be absent from the town on election day, has a religious obligation or an illness or disability that prevents them from going to the polls that day.
“Is there any movement on the state level to allow us to open that up?” Evans asked.
Lynam said there is also a provision already that people concerned about their health may cast an absentee ballot.
“I expect we’re going to see an extraordinary number of absentee ballots for the election,” Lynam said.
In other business, Lynam announced the retirement plans of Council on Aging Director Barbara Garvey and Assistant Collector/Treasurer Michelle Hayes. Replacing Hayes, who retires April 30, is a priority hire, but the coronavirus could complicate the hiring process, Lynam said.
“The position she holds is critical, she is the assistant treasurer/collector,” he said, noting that Treasurer Mary Beth Carter wants to immediately begin to seek a replacement. “I’m a little concerned about trying to develop applicants with what’s going on today, but I also want to make sure we are responsive to Mary Beth’s concerns.”
Lynam plans to work with Carter over the next week or two in an effort to develop a process for beginning that search.