WHITMAN — The annual Town Meeting will be delayed by at least 30 days and the annual Town Election will be pushed into June, with a date to be determined by June 9, the Board of Selectmen decided on Tuesday, April 7.
Health Board Chairman Eric Joubert said Town Administrator Frank Lynam has done an outstanding job of acting to control the spread of the virus.
“We’ve all contributed,” Lynam said, crediting the Health and Fire departments for their response, as well. Links on the town website whitman-ma.gov provide updated information.
The state has passed two emergency bills, Chapter 53 and Chapter 45, that affect towns’ ability to manage and control when town meetings and elections are held, according to Lynam.
“More importantly, the town has been working at minimizing exposure of employees to the virus by working rotating staffs so that we have the minimum number of people necessary to operate in each office,” Lynam said. “All of the essential functions are being performed. We are experiencing some increase in expenses due to our need to take care of and maintain facilities, but all-in-all, I think the town is doing pretty well, and all of its departments have made the effort to make this thing work.”
He said that, to his knowledge, no town employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but some have family members who have and they have managed the cases to minimize exposure.
One of Lynam’s main concerns going forward is on the effect of coronavirus on revenue.
“Eventually, it’s going to trickle down to us,” he said, noting he expects the state to announce that the drop in lottery sales alone could be responsible for a forecast 10-percent drop in local aid receipts. Sales taxes and meals taxes are also down.
The town moderator can extend the Town Meeting date for 30 days at a time — and the board voted to advise that Moderator Michael Seele do that, as most surrounding towns have already done. The postponement pushed it to June 3, but it could be revisited.
Calling into the Zoom Meeting, Seele asked for an opinion for public health and safety personnel.
“I think we’re all in agreement that the less social contact, the better,” Joubert said of his discussions with police and fire officials about both the Town Meeting and election. “Delaying the election would be the most appropriate thing to do from a public health standpoint.”
Fire Chief Timothy Grenno agreed.
“Things are rough in town,” Grenno said. “I don’t think a May 4 [Town Meeting] date would even be approachable right now for us to have a large gathering. It’s just not a safe thing to do.”
The Town Election must be held by June 30. Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said he does not think it would be safe to hold either as scheduled, and agreed that would be the wise move.
Town Clerk Dawn Varley said the board was permitted to vote to delay a vote without a date — which doesn’t have to be set until June 9. She is going to proceed with having the ballots printed with the May 16 date on them, but that won’t affect votes, which will be counted when the election is held.
Lynam endorsed that suggestion in the interest of flexibility for the town the election should be postponed with a date to be determined later.
“I’m highly recommending that people start now to early vote,” Varley said of the municipal early voting form — different from absentee voting. “They’ve allowed a lot of leeway for this election because a lot of towns already have their ballot printed. … I don’t want to see anybody in Town Hall.”
Residents can contact the Town Clerk’s office at 781-618-9710.
Kowalski noted that, since he and Selectman Randy LaMattina are both up for re-election, their votes reflect only a concern for public safety.
Selectman Brian Bezanson expressed concern about the number of people out walking in Whitman Park.
“There are an awful lot of people out there,” he said. “I can see that they were somewhat trying to distance themselves, and it was a beautiful day.” But he asked if the parks were included in any restriction on gathering in public places.
Restrictions have only been placed on playground equipment and basketball courts.
Lynam said the police are conducting hourly passes through the park and are “encouraging them to move on” if they see people ignoring guidelines for physical distancing. Joubert said the intention is not to have to close the parks so long as the public cooperates.
“It’s a great time to be a dog,” Kowalski quipped. “Dogs are getting more attention than anyone.”