WHITMAN — COVID restrictions on public gatherings have motivated Whitman officials to consider lowering town meeting quorum during their Tuesday, Nov. 10 meeting.
Hanson had done the same for its special Town Meeting in October, lowering their quorum to 25 voters who met physically distanced in the gymnasium.
“Due to COVID, we would like to follow what other towns have done,” said interim Town Administrator Lisa Green. “We were hoping to pull something together and have this for December, however, [according to Chapter 92 of the Special Act of 2020 centering on COVID] in order to consider adjusting the special Town Meeting quorum … Selectmen need to publish seven days before the vote or when the discussion takes place, of adjusting the quorum.”
The Town Clerk must also report the adjusted quorum vote to the Attorney General, who must approve it.
Selectmen will be discussing an adjustment to the special Town Meeting quorum at the Dec. 1, meeting. Town Moderator, Michael Seele will be consulted and with his approval will prescribe the number of voters necessary to constitute a quorum for the special Town Meeting to be held in January 2021 regarding the DPW force main project, according to Green.
Under its by-law, Whitman requires 150 voters for a Special Town Meeting. The Governor’s March 10 declaration of a state emergency allows a town to act “by a vote of its Board of Selectmen to lower a quorum that is less than the number that would be required by law, town by-law or town charter. The number of voters necessary to constitute a quorum shall not be less than 10 percent of the number that would otherwise be required,” Green stated.
“Where the governor just lowered the COVID restrictions and the number of people you want in a room, I don’t think we should move forward with 150 people for a special Town Meeting,” said Selectman Justin Evans. “I don’t think there’s much more to discuss than that.”
That guideline is currently no more than 10 people within a space and the town is not certain that includes town meetings, according to Green. No motions by Selectmen were required.
During her COVID update, Green noted that as of Nov. 10 there were 15 new positive cases in Whitman. The week before there were 39.
“We are still designated as high-risk, still in the red,” she said. She also reported hearing at a regional meeting that Brockton has 463 new cases as of Nov. 10 with a total of 5,615 and 306 deaths.
“Right now, the virus is running rampant in Brockton,” Green said. “The positive tests are now in the 20-to-40-year-old age groups … the deaths are in the 76 to 90 range.”
The spike among younger people is attributed to parties and a failure to take it seriously.
“Fortunately, it’s not spilling over to Whitman,” she said.
In other business, power outages related to traffic lights at routes 14 and 18 were discussed during a joint meeting between Selectmen and the DPW commissioners.
Parks and Highways Superintendent Bruce Martin said outages have been frequent and, on occasion, of long duration and asked for a letter from Selectmen and/or the DPW commissioners to MassDOT requesting some kind of back up system at that intersection.
Salvucci asked, and Green agreed, for a letter from the town to that effect, which Selectmen and the commissioners can all sign onto.
“The last outage, I believe, was approximately 12 hours,” he said.
MassDOT was contacted in the middle of the night for assistance and could offer none, he added. All the DPW could do was place stop signs on traffic barrels and illuminate the intersection with a light tower in an adjacent parking lot.
“[It was] very unsafe with high speeds going north and southbound on Route 18,” Martin said. “It’s just not a very good situation.”
The DPW reached out to MassDOT engineer currently working on the project the next day to ask if battery backups were available to automatically make the lights flash red.
“We were told there currently wasn’t anything like that in service in the state and that was pretty much the end of it,” Martin said of the state highway intersection that is not maintained or controlled by the town DPW. “We plan on continuing on doing what we have to do to make it a safe as possible during these frequent power outages up there.”
There are systems powered by either batteries or solar, available, according to Commissioner Kevin Cleary.