Select Board - Mar 23rd, 2020

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Held via Zoom teleconference, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Town Election. A few hours prior to this meeting, the governor signed legislation that allows municipalities to postpone local elections, to a date no later than June 30th. The select board and town manager agree that the town election should be postponed. Because elections require coordination from numerous groups, they're hesitant to choose a specific date.

The board motions their intention to postpone the election to a date no sooner than June 6th and no later than June 30th. The board will meet on March 30th to determine the precise date. They'd like the town manager to consult with the board of registrars in advance of their next meeting.

Motion passes 5--0.

Town Meeting. Town Moderator John Leone appears before the Select board to discuss the timing of town meeting. Both the moderator and Board agree that town meeting should be held after the election. The moderator has statutory authority to postpone a town meeting for up to 30 days; this comes from a statute that was intended to handle-weather related emergencies and the like. Delaying in response to the pandemic is straining the statute's intent, but that's what we have to work with.

Town meeting was scheduled to start on April 27th, and the town moderator intends to make a 30-day postponement then. This implies another postponement on May 27th, to get us past the election date.

COVID-19 is still likely to be an issue during the summer. The moderator considers how town meeting might have to adapt. For example, it might involve seating some town meeting members in the balcony in order to keep people six feet apart. It might also warrant holding town meeting on a Saturday, and spreading everyone around the high school football field.

There's also the question of what town meeting will consider. The annual town meeting might focus on articles necessary to keep the town operating (budget, etc), and defer other articles to a special town meeting in the fall. This year, we had an unusually large number of voter-sponsored articles.

Mr. Leone provides the board with a copy of an announcement he plans to release. The board moves receipt, 5--0.

Declaration of a Local State of Emergency. The last major issue of the evening involves a local declaration of emergency. From what I gathered, this would make the town eligible for state emergency management funds and assistance. If a federal state of emergency were declared, we'd be eligible for federal assistance as well. The language of the declaration is similar to declarations issued by other Massachusetts municipalities.

The original language would have given the town manager authority to end the state of emergency. The board amends this by giving themselves or the town manager the authority to end the state of emergency. The board also adds language requiring them to reconsider whether the state of emergency is still appropriate, by June 30th.

A member of the public asks whether the police department will gain any new powers under this declaration. Town Counsel answers. Violations of town bylaws are civil infractions, and generally only punishable by fine, not arrest. The declaration creates no new civil offenses. The declaration does not create any new criminal offenses either, and there are no changes to law that would allow arrests in new circumstances.

Another member of the public says she didn't hear an answer to the earlier question about police powers, and asks the board to answer the earlier question. Town counsel repeats his earlier answer. He (or perhaps the town manager, I forget which) notes that the town has partnership agreements with other municipalities, and our police officers might be called to assist there.

Finally, there's a question about prior actions that will be carried forward into the state of emergency. There are several: closure of the schools, parks, tennis courts, closures of businesses, etc.

Board adopts the emergency declaration, 5--0.