Reduced quorum, outdoor location possibilities
Selectmen have voted to postpone the Annual Town Meeting indefinitely while waiting for word from state and local health officials when it may be possible to safely gather Abington’s legislative body.
Town Meeting was originally scheduled for Monday, May 18. However, Massachusetts is just now hitting what Gov. Charlie Baker has described as the projected peak of positive COVID-19 cases. It is unclear whether social distancing guidelines would be relaxed enough by mid-May to allow scores of people to congregate for the Town Meeting.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect 150-plus residents to convene a meeting given the health circumstances in our community,” said Town Moderator Shawn Reilly. “We need to have safety first above all.”
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously recently to postpone Town Meeting “to a future date to be determined.”
In communities like Abington, Town Meeting serves as the legislative branch of the town government. It approves the town’s budget and votes on proposed changes to the town’s bylaws and zoning regulations, among other governance matters. Any registered voter in Abington can attend and vote at Town Meeting.
The question is what happens if Town Meeting isn’t able to convene and approve a budget before the fiscal year begins on July 1. Communities that aren’t able to approve a budget by that date may have to move forward with what’s called a 1/12th budget — essentially a month-by-month budget based on the average monthly expenses of the previous year.
Reilly said Abington is not alone in trying to figure out the best way to conduct critical town business in the era of social distancing. Some towns, according to Reilly, are considering holding their town meetings on football fields, which would allow attendees to stay spread out. That option has challenges including handicap accessibility and alternate plans if it rains.
He said the state’s moderator’s association is also advocating for legislation at the State House that would allow a supermajority of selectmen to temporarily reduce the number of attendees required to hold Town Meeting by 75 percent.