It’s settled: Town Meeting Monday in the gym, 7 p.m.

Jun 25, 2020 by

Published June 25, 2020

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING – Many hours have been spent by local elected and appointed officials debating the merits of where and when to conduct the annual Town Meeting this spring due to concerns over public health caused by COVID-19.

Originally slated for Monday, June 8 and subsequently postponed to Monday, June 29, of late it has become a race against time as the clock is ticking on the end of the current fiscal year, which is next Tuesday, June 30. Without votes taken by town meeting attendees, essential business to appropriate funds for the FY21 budget would be left undone and town officials would have to take steps to fund basic operations and contractual agreements under what is called a 1/12th budget to go into effect July 1, 2020.

The majority of the Select Board favored holding it indoors in the NRHS gymnasium and had voted twice to do so. It was felt that appropriate social distancing measures can be taken to give attendees their six-feet of physical separation from non-household members. A tour last week with Wayne Hardacker, supervisor of buildings and grounds for the schools, included an overview of the building’s HVAC filtration system and how many times air would be exchanged, etc. The Board of Health agreed with that assessment at its June 11 meeting but the members reconsidered their position at their June 18 meeting.

Following a one hour discussion in a virtual meeting with their Health Director, Bob Bracey, who favored the outdoor venue, and many others who weighed in favoring that position, including Finance Committee Chairwoman Abby Hurlbut and Community Planning Commission Chairman Warren Pearce, the Health Board voted 3-0 to recommend that the Town Moderator, John Murphy, select the outdoor option on the high school track and field at the same date and time, June 29 at 7 p.m.

Town Clerk Barbara Stats had spoken extensively about the benefits of holding it in the gymnasium when comparing the two layouts and how her staff would conduct crowd control and other considerations. Concerns over unsettled weather abruptly ending an outdoor meeting and thus pushing the timeline to the limit by being forced to postpone it to June 30 when it could happen again were also a concern of other officials, including the Town Administrator, Michael Gilleberto.

In the end, the state law enabling towns to adjust their town meeting schedules after the warrant has been posted falls to the discretion of the Town Moderator. On Wednesday, June 24, as the Transcript was going to press, Murphy issued his decision to hold the meeting in the NRHS gym.

Attendees are reminded to bring with them the warrant that was mailed to their homes and their masks or face coverings. Upon arrival, follow the one-way signage to the check-in table while maintaining six feet of separation from those around you, just as you would at the grocery store. After checking in, enter the gymnasium where the chairs will be set up six feet apart, or follow the signage to the room at the end of the hall to be set aside for those who cannot wear a mask, either for medical reasons or because they prefer not to do so.

Town Moderator’s statement

Murphy’s reasons for selecting the gymnasium rather than the football stadium are cited below:

Over the past few months, I have consulted with the Select Board, Town Administrator, Public Safety Director / Police Chief, Fire Chief, Board of Health, Director of Public Health, Town Clerk, and Town Counsel at various times regarding the date and venue for both the May 11, 2020 Special Town Meeting and the June 8, 2020 Annual Town Meeting.

In light of the expected large attendance and deliberation regarding the potential purchase of Seven Acres Poultry Farm, I have continued the May 11 Special Town Meeting on three occasions – most recently to July 27, 2020 at 7 p.m. It is my intention to continue postponing this Special Town Meeting while the public health emergency is in effect as permitted under applicable law.

Municipal and school officials have worked collaboratively to submit only necessary business for consideration at the June 8 Annual Town Meeting, which has been continued to (Monday) June 29 at 7 p.m. In the interest of abbreviating June Town Meeting, the Select Board has limited warrant articles to only essential and time-sensitive matters.

While taking into account that Open Town Meeting such as North Reading’s must be held in person, the intention of the Select Board to hold the June Annual Town Meeting indoors, as well as the recommendation of the Board of Health that the June Town Meeting be held in an outdoor setting, I have further considered the following:

• Information from the Public Safety Director / Police Chief and Fire Chief that a Town Meeting can be held indoors at the Middle/High School Gymnasium while meeting Commonwealth of Massachusetts “Guidance for Town Meetings to Address COVID-19” guidelines for social distancing, face coverings, and cleaning/disinfection.

• Uncertainty in summer weather, particularly the risk of high heat/humidity and thunder/lightning/high wind, which may preclude an outdoor Town Meeting from occurring.

• Information from the Town Clerk regarding the challenges associated with managing voter access and participation in an outdoor venue.

• The distance between parking and the most viable outdoor venue.

• Continued progress in Massachusetts’ reopening, including the reopening of indoor dining this week.

• The importance of conducting the town’s annual business prior to the beginning of the Fiscal Year on July 1.

• The risk of public health conditions potentially deteriorating, thereby preventing or discouraging a Town Meeting from occurring at a date in the near future.

In light of this information, it is my intention to call to order the June Annual Town Meeting on Monday, June 29 at 7 p.m. in the Middle/High School Gymnasium.

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