WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 9 voted to again move the date of the annual Town Meeting to request that Town Moderator Michael Seele, in consideration of public health and safety, to postpone Town Meeting for another 30 days.
Seele, who had joined into the Zoom meeting, agreed to the request.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam said the board can meet again within that 30-day window to set a specific date for Town Meeting, if the board’s wish is to hold it at the end of July. Hanson has already rescheduled its Town Meeting for July 20.
Whitman Selectmen were leaning toward a Monday, July 27 date for the ultimate Town Meeting date.
Gov. Charlie Baker signed S2680 on Friday, June 5, which would allow communities to hold town meetings outside of their geographic boundaries. Whitman officials have been hoping to move Town Meeting to WHRHS, but — while the school’s mailing address is in Whitman — the building is entirely in Hanson.
“With that legislation in place, the next question is should we hold the meeting on June 22 at W-H,” Lynam told the board. “If we do not hold a meeting until July, the town will be placed on a 1/12 budget.”
He said the town accountant has prepared a budget for July that he will be reviewing “in the next day or two,” which includes all necessary payments, debt, school assessments that normally occur in July.
Selectmen would be required to approve that 1/12 budget.
“As someone who has, by doctor’s orders, been housebound for a long time now — basically, I’m under house arrest and my warden, my wife is also a nurse and she’s fierce about it — I have had real concerns about being able to be at the meeting on June 22,” said Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski. “It’s not just myself, it’s other people in the town who are vulnerable, too, if we could push it off until July, it would ease my mind a little bit.”
Seele said people should be asked to wear masks and he had joined Lynam at a meeting with Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak about setting up the school’s gym in a way to maintain the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) physical distancing requirements.
“That said, there are people in situations where they cannot wear masks, people with health conditions,” Seele said. “There may be people who do not want to wear masks for whatever reason.”
Seele advocated seating the former group in the Performing Arts Center and linking the two rooms by video and placing an assistant moderator there to recognize people who wish to speak and count votes.
“It would be complicated, but it could be done if people are comfortable with that,” he said.
Selectman Justin Evans noted that, since the School District will be on a 1/12 budget for July because of Hanson’s July 20 Town Meeting and FEMA has moved the deadline for approval of a Whitman flood map vote, he asked if there were any other pressing reasons to have a Town Meeting before July 1.
Lynam said transfers for the remainder of fiscal 2020, most notably about $44,000 to cover veterans’ benefits, but there are other bookkeeping solutions for that.
Selectman Dan Salvucci said he had no objections to keeping the Town Meeting on June 22 because reopening plans are progressing, and Selectman Brian Bezanson had no preference, but suggested July 27 could be an option.
“We’ve made some incredible progress in the last couple weeks … if this progress continues, we may see a better turnout in July, which is the ultimate goal,” Selectman Randy LaMattina said of the town’s COVID-19 response. “I would hate to see people not come to town meeting because, one, for health reasons they couldn’t or just the fear of possibly getting this.”
Lynam also reported that the town is continuing with plans to start engaging the public with activity, focusing on access to fields and baseball.
“That’s going to start happening next week,” he said. “We’ll actually start — if everything goes OK — playing games the beginning of July.”
As for town Hall access, Lynam has ordered a walk-through temperature station for the building entrance as a screening process for the coronavirus. The device should arrive within two weeks.
“At that point, I would like to look at staffing all of the offices and beginning, or at least consider, doing public visits by appointment, but we’ll talk more about that as we get closer to it,” he said.