Fall Town Meeting rescheduled for a midwinter’s night

Oct 26, 2020

Instead of a fall Town Meeting, Wareham residents can plan on deciding municipal business in between taking down holiday decorations and before watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve.

The meeting, originally scheduled for October 26, has been postponed to Monday, December 28. 

Town Moderator Claire Smith said she’s planning to hold the meeting that night, although further delays would be legal. 

Smith said that as she watched the numbers of coronavirus cases tick up both in Wareham and across the state, she knew it would be a bad idea to have Town Meeting on its original date.

“It’s a worry for me, what’s the right thing to do. I just have to go with my instinct and do the best I can,” Smith said of the decision. “I know it’s hard for the town not to do it’s business, but on the other hand, I don’t want it to be a super spreader.”

Smith said that she settled on a date during the schools’ winter break in part because it would give the janitorial staff plenty of time to clean the school both before and after the meeting — even if the meeting runs for more than one night. The schools’ winter break will run from Tuesday, December 22, through Monday, January 4.

Cases are currently on the rise in town, and Smith said she thinks that trend will likely continue through November.

She doesn’t want to hold the meeting at a time when people will feel they are choosing between participating in Town Meeting and protecting their health, she explained.

Some other towns have engineered other solutions, like outdoor meetings with large heated tents and sound systems, but Wareham doesn’t have the budget for that kind of expense. 

Smith said she hopes she will be able to figure out a way to get a sense of how many people plan on attending the meeting ahead of time.

Between the auditorium and the gym, the high school can accommodate about 210 people while allowing enough room for social distancing. The high school cafeteria is currently being used to store excess furniture, so that’s out. 

Smith said she’s considering other spaces that could hold an overflow crowd: perhaps the middle school auditorium or a tent outdoors. 

“No matter what we look at, there’s issues. We just have to figure it out ahead of time and do the best we can,” Smith said.

Although the rescheduled meeting falls on a holiday week, Smith said she hopes that there will be a good turnout, as people are more likely to stick close to home this year instead of traveling to see family and friends who live far away.

This Town Meeting has several high-interest warrant articles that are likely to draw a crowd, including naming (or re-naming) the new elementary school, rezoning downtown, changing the Town Charter, establishing a fee system for waste disposal, a nip ban, and a $9 million sewer project.