HANSON — The Board of Selectmen, on Tuesday, Sept. 15 voted to lower the quorum required for the 10 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 3 rain-or-shine date for the fall special Town Meeting at the high school football field.
Selectmen voted to reduce the quorum required under a state act regarding municipal governance during the COVID-19 emergency from 100 to 50. Selectmen voted to schedule the special Town Meeting and then voted not to hold an annual Town Meeting as required by town bylaw.
“We’re not talking about an override,” Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said about the quorum, noting she expected to hear complaints from people about a small number of people making decisions for the whole town. “Most of these articles are primarily housekeeping.”
“We’ll take as many people as want to go,” Selectmen Chairman Kenny Mitchell said, noting he’d like to see as many as 300 to 400 people attend.
Town counsel Kate Feodoroff said the special act had been required because of the June 30 deadline for annual town meetings planned for the purpose of setting an annual budget. Otherwise, under Ch. 3 Sec. 9, communities are free to schedule town meetings as they wish.
“The further trick in Hanson is you have a bylaw which annually sets the special town meeting,” she said. “We call that the fall special town meeting, but because its set by bylaw, it’s actually an annual town meeting.”
By specifically setting the session as a special Town Meeting, it can he held any time. However, the annual Town Meeting designation usually applies when bylaw articles are up for discussion. This fall, the articles are exclusively financial, which are permitted at a special Town Meeting.
Feodoroff, therefore, recommended not holding an annual fall Town Meeting — instead, to schedule a special Town Meeting in October.
“If we put this off, we’re just going to have so much work to do in the spring,” said Mitchell. “I really hate this COVID kind of dictating what we’re doing, and I truly believe that, in the spring, we’re still going to have to social distance and we’re still going to have to adhere to a lot of the stuff that we have to today.”
Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan said her office would work with the Selectmen on whatever day they select for the October special Town Meeting.
“I’m just worried, if you have it on the Saturday, if it is pouring — I know you said rain or shine — how is that going to work?” she asked.
Mitchell explained that the board was going to look into leasing a tent in the event of rain, but argued that advising residents to bring rain gear as well as masks would help. He also pointed to the short warrant of only 18 or 19 articles as conducive to a shorter meeting. As of right now, no rain date is planned.
“I’m really getting a whole visual here on people with umbrellas trying to be recognized,” said Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett, noting that cooler temperatures would also have to be contended with during an outdoor meeting on an October morning. “Microphones, electronics, the seats getting wet, elderly people and access — I mean, it just sounds like a nightmare.”
Mitchell said he didn’t favor delaying the Town Meeting, suggesting it could be moved inside in the event of rain.
Both FitzGerald-Kemmett and Sloan favored that option, but Sloan noted it would have to be set up with the school.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said using the gym would provide more flexibility in keeping to the Oct. 3 date, while maintaining social distancing.