Whoops: STM in jeopardy because of legal snafu

Monday’s Special Town Meeting may be postponed after town lawyers determined it can’t gather with a reduced quorum. 

Town officials assumed it was able to meet with just 50 registered voters in attendance instead of the normal 150 people under a special state law designed to help communities approve spending and change bylaws in the middle of a pandemic.

However it wasn’t until Thursday that town lawyers told Moderator Shawn Reilly and Town Manager Scott Lambiase that selectmen hadn’t taken the actions needed to reduce the quorum – despite having worked with Reilly, Lambiase, and selectmen for the past several weeks to prepare for the meeting. 

Reilly said he doubts 150 voters will turn up Monday, especially with no issues of significant controversy on the agenda, and the town now considered a “high risk” community by the state department of public health.

“If there’s a line of people in the lobby waiting to check in, then we’ll wait, ” Reilly said. Otherwise he plans to quickly adjourn the meeting until a date in November.

Under the state law passed this spring, towns can reduce their quorums in order to conduct business with less people gathered in a room.  To do so, selectmen must first give seven days notice of their intent to vote on it and allow the public to comment.

Selectmen followed this process in the spring when it voted to reduce the required quorum for the Annual Town Meeting from 150 to 50.

Town officials assumed the vote covered all town meetings held during the ongoing public health emergency. And town attorneys never brought up the issue while helping the town over the past few weeks prepare the meeting warrant and review motions.

At the end of the regular pre-town meeting prep session this past Thursday, town counsel asked whether selectmen had taken a vote to lower the quorum. Town officials said they thought the spring’s vote was sufficient. Reilly said the attorney then checked with the town’s bond counsel – which reviews borrowing documents – and said it was their judgement selectmen were supposed to vote again to lower the quorum level.

However, because this happened Thursday, less than 96 hours before town meeting was scheduled to gavel in, selectmen don’t have enough time to notify the public and take a vote.

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