The residents behind four private petitions on next month’s Annual/Special Town Meeting warrant are being asked to withdraw their articles and have them resubmitted for a future Town Meeting, most likely this fall. The petitions would receive sponsorship from town leaders and not require the petitioners to go through the submittal process a second time.
The board of selectmen voted during its meeting on May 5 to assure the petitioners that the select board will sponsor their measures, ensuring a place for each on a future Town Meeting warrant. The board and Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi had previously agreed that the upcoming Town Meeting should focus only on articles that are essential to the operation of the town government.
Mr. Schiavi said town hall staff had already reached out to the petitioners. Many had expressed concerns about having to repeat the process of acquiring 100 signatures to have their petition included on the warrant. It was decided that the petitioners would not have to go through that process a second time, Mr. Schiavi said.
Postponing the petitions has been recommended to reduce the amount of time Town Meeting attendees will have to be in the same room in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. It would also ensure a fuller vetting of each issue than selectmen and the town administrator believe will be possible next month, as the town will be farther down the road in combating the virus come this fall.
“Not wanting to deny the public to have good debate on citizens’ petitions, would they consider withdrawing those petitions and resubmitting those at the fall Town Meeting,” Mr. Schiavi said.
The four private citizens’ petitions include ensuring the safe disposal of spent fuel rods at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station; prohibiting the Town of Bourne from the purchase of water or any other beverage in single-use plastic containers on town property; changes to the Massachusetts state flag in recognition of emblems offensive to Native Americans; and withdrawing from the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.
Mr. Schiavi told the board that he consulted Town Counsel Robert S. Troy on the matter of postponing the articles. The two agreed, in concurrence with Town Moderator Donald J. Pickard, that the articles could be addressed during Town Meeting, with a motion made when each one is introduced, to move it to Special Town Meeting in the fall.
Member James L. Potter said he was concerned about the legality of Mr. Schiavi’s suggestion, noting he had never heard of a motion being made to postpone an article to another Town Meeting. He also noted that, while the Town of Bourne often holds a fall Special Town Meeting, doing so is not a given. He was uncertain about postponing articles “to a meeting that’s not qualified.”
“I just want to be clear about what we can and cannot do, legally,” he said.
Selectman George G. Slade agreed and said he would want a formal, written opinion from Mr. Troy before agreeing to the proposal.
Board member Peter J. Meier said that, even if the plan proves to be legal, bringing the articles to the floor of Town Meeting could still lead to discussion and debate—just what the board is trying to avoid.
Mr. Meier suggested that the board members go on the record and state that the selectmen will sponsor all four articles either in the fall or at the next available Town Meeting. While it would not be an endorsement of the petitions, selectmen sponsorship would ensure placement on the warrant, Mr. Meier said.
“That takes all the paperwork out and shows the people who went out and got those signatures that we’re willing to listen and give them their due that they’re looking for, at a future Special Town Meeting,” he said.
Board members agreed that Mr. Meier’s idea is the better plan. Selectman Jared P. MacDonald said it is “a more permanent solution” versus being hopeful that any one or all four of the petitions would engender unwanted discussion.
“I kind of think that’s the way to go,” Mr. MacDonald said.
The full board agreed and voted unanimous approval of Mr. Meier’s suggestion and motion. Bourne’s Annual/Special Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 29.