The COVID-19 pandemic has the Town of Bourne weighing its options relative to where the Annual/Special Town Meeting should be held later this month. Town officials are deciding whether to hold Town Meeting indoors or outdoors.
The Bourne Board of Selectmen discussed the issue during its remote meeting on Wednesday, May 20. Bourne Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi said the possibilities under consideration were to hold the meeting inside Bourne High School or outside on the football field.
Mr. Schiavi explained that an outdoor meeting might provide an easier venue for complying with guidelines regarding social distancing in the age of coronavirus. He said that a number of towns are already setting up to hold their town meetings outside. The football field, he said, offers “a greater station for social distance.”
The alternative, Mr. Schiavi said, is to hold Town Meeting indoors but to use several different rooms in the high school. He mentioned use of the auditorium, the gymnasium and the cafeteria to offer physical separation.
“Logistically, we can connect those together, so whoever’s in each of those rooms can actively participate and view the meeting,” he said.
There is a sense of urgency to making the location decision. The Annual/Special Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 29. Given that date, the town is required to post the meeting warrant by Tuesday, June 2. The warrant has to contain not only the date and time but also the location, Mr. Schiavi said.
“We’ll want to get that decision made in the next 10 days or so,” he said, “so that we can present it to the board to vote on.”
Selectmen Peter J. Meier suggested that Mr. Schiavi reach out to Rear Admiral Francis X. McDonald, president at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, about use of the academy’s football field for Town Meeting. Mr. Meier said the field was flat and has artificial turf, which would make it easier to access for people with disabilities.
Mr. Meier added that he did not anticipate any pushback from residents of Taylor’s Point over Town Meeting attendees parking their cars in the neighborhood. Mr. Meier, who lives in that area, said most of his neighbors would understand that people have parked there in the interest of “doing the town’s business.”
Mr. Meier added that some people he knows, residents who are usual participants at Town Meeting, have admitted to him they would be afraid to go indoors because of the possibility of contracting the disease. Ultimately, he said, “we have to do what’s best overall for the town.”
Mr. Schiavi told the board that he had already reached out to MMA and that Adm. McDonald had already informed him the academy would not be able to accommodate the town with use of the football field.
“Unfortunately, they’re not going to be able to support us on such a short time frame just because of the restrictions they’re following under state guidance,” Mr. Schiavi said.
That leaves the high school and whether to hold the meeting indoors or outdoors, Mr. Schiavi said. He reiterated that holding it indoors, with people in three separate rooms, was logistically possible.
He added that the number of warrant articles has been significantly reduced, so the amount of time needed to hold Town Meeting will be cut back significantly. The Annual Town Meeting warrant has 13 articles, and the Special Town Meeting warrant has only two.
“We’re only talking about essentials, so it’s a streamlined Town Meeting that’s limited in scope,” he said.
Questions were also raised about whether the decision regarding venue could be made in time for when the warrant needs to be posted. The possibility exists that Town Meeting could be pushed off even further, into July, and the town operate on a budget equal to one-twelfth of the current fiscal year budget, which runs out on June 30, until a new budget can be voted on and approved.