Town Moderator gives a Town Meeting update

Mar 23, 2020

Letter to the Editor:

In the past couple of weeks, I have gone before the Board of Selectmen to discuss the process by which a Moderator can recess a Town meeting when a state of emergency is declared.

State law requires that we complete our Annual Town Meeting before July 1; Our Town Charter requires that it begin on the last Monday in April, which this year is April 27.

The warrant for both the Annual Town meeting and the Special Town meeting have been duly signed by our Board of Selectmen and legally posted. Once a meeting has been legally called, there is a statute (G.L. c. 39, Sec. 10A) that allows the Moderator to "recess and continue" the Town meeting itself to a date within 30 days, a decision that I can only make after consulting with the Select Board and "local public safety officials," which in this case would include the Director of Public Health. 

However, there is something of a gap in State law in this situation because I can only postpone the meeting for up to 30 days, and even if I were to recess the town meeting, it would not affect the election. Article #1 of the Annual Town Meeting is the town election and elections cannot be postponed, unless by court order. The Moderator has no oversight on elections, even though it is Article #1 of the warrant.

In light of the current public health pandemic, the Governor has declared that there shall be no large meetings. Therefore, I am posting this statement to let the Town know that we are watching this situation closely with regard to the April Town meeting.   

At this moment, the Governor and the Legislature are working on emergency legislation to allow  a recess of Town meeting beyond thirty days; emergency legislation to clarify how municipal governments can spend beyond this fiscal year, if we cannot have town meeting before the June 30th deadline; and legislation which will allow Town Clerks to postpone local elections.

Officials in the executive and legislative branches of State government are well aware of the issue and together with representative groups such as Mass. Moderators Assoc., and the Mass. Municipal Assoc. are working on a solution. Senate bill No 2608 is on the Governor’s desk for his signature and that will allow the Town Clerk to postpone the local election. 

House bill 4580 is still in committee, with the hope that it will pass and be signed by the end of this week. Once the Governor signs the House bill, my intention is to recess Town meeting until June 15, by following all of the legal steps that must be taken to do so.

Things are still pretty fluid but the Town Clerk and myself are carefully watching and will take the necessary action with regard to recessing Town meeting and postponing our local election,  

Hope to see you at town meeting!!!


Claire Smith

Wareham Town Moderator