HANSON — The town budgets $7,000 a year in advertising and printing costs to hold it’s two town meetings — including the special Town Meeting scheduled Monday, Oct. 3 — but as the session fell 13 short of the required forum of 100, they’ll have to reuse some of those materials and try again.
The quorum deficit meant only 87 people in a town of about 10,150 attended.
They are now out of pocket $350 for the attendance of Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff for two hours, during which she didn’t get to say anything. The town also paid for printing the warrant and several booklets of supporting materials, including a 26-page booklet on “Our Commitment to the Community” by La Flora LLC regarding the warrant article for Impressed LLC’s proposal for a cannabis delivery aspect to its business at 15 Commercial Way.
“We continue to be challenged by the fact that folks aren’t as engaged as we would hope they would be,” Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said Tuesday morning. “I think that’s a problem for us and it’s a problem for the town because we want to make sure, when we have town meeting, we have elections, that we have a good cross-section of everybody so the results are reflective of who we’ve got in town. It’s definitely a nut we need to crack.”
The warrant and supporting materials won’t need reprinting, but a new cover for the warrant, bearing the new date will be necessary, according to Green.
“The town needs the Town Meeting to be able to conduct business,” said Town Administrator Lisa Green on Tuesday morning. “That includes funding of bills and a number of different things that we cannot move forward without Town Meeting approval.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said the Select Board asked them if there were any budget items that could not wait until May and the transfer station was at the top of the list.
“They only got one half of their budget, so if we don’t meet again, they will have operated a whole year on half of their budget,” she said. “We don’t want that to happen. That would effectively close the transfer station down.”
The Town Meeting has been rescheduled for 7:30 p.m., at the Hanson Middle School, Wednesday, Nov. 9, but that date brings concerns of its own, according to Green, noting the Tuesday, Nov. 8 state election requires Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan and her Assistant Clerk Jean Kelley to have paperwork completed about the election result.
“It’s very disappointing,” Sloan said. “Especially because they [now] want to have it the day after the election. That’s a 20-hour day and then trying to prepare for a Town Meeting.”
Sloan said it was the first time in her career that she saw a town meeting unable to conduct business because of a failure to meet the quorum requirements.
“What complicates it a little bit more is that this [the rescheduled Town Meeting] is the day after the election,” Green said. “We may be limited – Town Clerk has other obligations and requirements mandated by the state with her reporting and follow-up work – so we will be without our town clerk, most likely. Someone else will have to take up those responsibilities.”
Sloan’s office typically puts in at least a 20-hour day on a state-wide or national election.
“There’s a lot we need to shuffle,” she said. “There’s a lot of work and costs involved in a Town Meeting.”
The preferred date of Wednesday, Nov. 16, suggested by Town Moderator Sean Kealy, however, ran into a clash with parent-teacher conferences in the district’s schools already-scheduled for that week.
School Committee member Hillary Kniffen also said that committee is already slated to meet Nov. 16.
“That’s not going to work,” Kealy said, asking for objections to Nov. 9. Hearing none, the Select Board voted to set that date for the “Town Meeting 2.0.”
“It’s unfortunate,” Kealy said after the session adjourned. “We’ve got to get more people to come out.”
He said a controversial article is usually enough to get people to come to Town Meeting.
“But, then again, you never know what that controversial article is going to be,” he said. “We just put the town business on [the warrant] and hope that people come out.”
Where the warrant articles that went without action Monday night are concerned, keeping the transfer station open and functioning until the May 2023 Town Meeting depends on budget votes in October.
“This is the type of government that the town residents want, and they need to understand that we need Town Meeting to be able to conduct business,” she said.
Green also expressed dismay at the absence of members of the Zoning Board of Appeals and several Town Hall employees.
“There were some there,” she said. “[But] no on from the ZBA was there. Not one.”
She was also surprised that the owners of cannabis firm, Impressed LLC, was not there.
“It’s a little concerning,” Select Board member Joe Weeks said Monday night. “I understand people are busy and a lot of things are happening, but there are important issues that we’re trying to push forward.”
He pointed to by-law reviews, zoning and budgetary issues — the latter involving raises — as well as investment in the capital plans just get stalled when a Town Meeting can’t get down to work. The cannabis article, which he said “could have a very positive impact on the budget” also went without action that night.
“There’s a lot of important reasons why we want to try to have people come out here,” Weeks said. “You try to balance that with school starting up and everything going on in people’s lives, but it’s real tax dollars, it’s real capital investments, it’s real policy change — really important things.”
Weeks expressed pride in the work the town was able to conduct at the last town meeting without raising taxes.
“We can’t continue that if we don’t have a quorum,” he said. He also pointed to the coming of snow season, stressing that the funds for plowing contracts have to be approved at Town Meeting.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Select Board member Ed Heal noting it was the first time a failure to reach quorum halted the work at hand. “It feels like you have a firework going off and it’s the duds — you’re waiting and hoping that it’s going to be going off.”
Heal said he wasn’t certain if it was the lack of controversial articles that failed to being people in, which he said was also a good thing.
“Hopefully, they’ll be able to m