Selectmen may lower town meeting quorum

Board could vote Monday night for a temporary reduction

Abington selectmen could vote as soon as Monday night to temporarily reduce the number of registered voters needed to hold its Annual Town Meeting on June 22. 

Legislation is moving on Beacon Hill that would give boards of selectmen the power to lower the needed quorum to as low as 10 percent of what is normally required. The move is needed, proponents argue, because most towns don’t have facilities large enough to safely host upwards of 200 town meeting voters, while maintaining social distancing protocols. This means communities would be hard pressed to gather the minimum number of people in order to conduct critical business, such as approving a municipal budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

In Abington, the required quorum is 150, which means, if the legislation passes, selectmen could vote to hold this year’s Annual Town Meeting with just 15 people. Based on a preliminary discussion last week, they are not expected to approve a level that low; rather they are looking at a number closer to 50. 

“We need to make sure we have enough people there equal to or more than the number of politicians,” Selectman Jim Connolly said. 

The board’s agenda for its Monday night meeting lists a vote “for temporary lower quorum requirements for Town Meeting.”

Abington traditionally holds Town Meeting in the Abington Middle/High School auditorium,  which can seat more than 300 people. Town Moderator Shawn Reilly said he has examined the space alongside Health Agent Marty Golightly and Town Clerk Leanne Adams. The plan currently is to keep multiple seats and rows in between attendees. People from the same household would be allowed to sit next to each other. With those restrictions in place, Reilly told selectmen this week that the auditorium could hold about 60 people, including the board of selectmen and finance committee, which traditionally sits on stage. Another 70 could be seated in the gymnasium, but not enough to make the town’s 150-person quorum. 

“If the legislation doesn’t pass, Marty and I have already decided we can’t allow an indoor meeting with all those people, and we would have it out on the lawn [in front of the middle/high school,” said Reilly. 

Both selectmen and Reilly stressed that voting to reduce the quorum would not set a cap on attendees. Under Abington’s open town meeting form of government, no registered Abington voter can be turned away from the meeting. If attendance exceeds capacity, Reilly said he is required to adjourn the meeting to a later date when additional seating will be available. That would likely involve scheduling an outdoor meeting, he said. 

Town Manager Scott Lambiase said the Annual Town Meeting warrant will also likely be reduced to include only budgetary and time-sensitive articles in order to limit the time everyone is in the same room. 

“In the fall, we can schedule a special town meeting to discuss whatever other issues come up,” he said.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association reported that at least 230 towns have rescheduled their town meetings this year due to COVID-19 concerns, with at least 158 now scheduled for the month of June. 

The agenda for Monday night’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting includes a possible vote on reducing the quorum for the Annual Town Meeting.

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