Bourne Town Meeting - May 1-2, 2017 (copy)

Three years before the arrival of the coronavirus voters sat closely together, unmasked, at Bourne’s Annual Town Meeting in May 2017.

It’s a fairly good bet that Bourne voters are going to make history on Monday—though it’s likely that not many of them especially want to.

At 7 PM under a tent at Jackson Field outside Bourne High School, the Annual Town Meeting is slated to start.

The Annual Town Meeting and the accompanying Special Town Meeting themselves seem to offer few decisions that will stand out over time. The liveliest article likely will be the citizens petition article that asks if residents will vote in favor of pulling the town out of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority—a mechanism that town counsel has warned has no basis in state law and cannot achieve its goal as written.

The other articles are on the mundane side (especially for Bourne, with its proud tradition of multi-night Town Meetings)—and deliberately so.

This is a meeting that the board of selectmen and town administrator have designed to be gotten through as quickly as possible to keep the town running.

The reason for all of this, of course—the meeting outdoors under the tent, the stripped-down warrants, and so on—is the coronavirus that starting this spring has sickened and killed people throughout the United States and in Bourne.

Meeting on an athletic playing field obviously isn’t ideal, especially for the older demographic that typically composes much of the turnout for Town Meeting.

But the town officials have done the right thing. The virus thrives when large, or even not-so-large, groups of people gather in enclosed spaces for an extended period of time—a classic description of a typical Bourne Town Meeting.

Outdoors, scientists say, with freely flowing air, the threat is much reduced.

So on to the probably historic nature of Monday’s Town Meeting.

We can’t say with certainty that Bourne Town Meeting never has been held outside since the town’s creation in 1884—that would take some time to research, and we’re scrambling, just as town officials are, to meet deadlines under the added constraints of the virus—but we can say it’s highly unlikely.

Spring on Cape Cod, the traditional time for Town Meeting in Bourne and the rest of the Cape towns, is not conducive to outdoor municipal meetings. Maybe you could get away with one in Palm Beach or Key West, but New Englanders like roofs over their heads when it comes to impassioned verbal slugfests, especially when a storm is blowing outside.

The nation as a whole, and all its people and companies and municipalities, are winging this virus. It snuck up on us. We’re adapting on the fly. We don’t know how long it will last, or how bad it will get, or what modifications we will have to make to time-honored municipal practices while it remains a threat.

For now, give credit to Bourne town officials for coming up with what appears to be the best short-term solution for holding Town Meeting at this point in time.

Show up on Monday if you can. Take the meeting seriously, and don’t allow yourself to be rushed to a decision.

At the same time, resist the urge to pontificate. This is one instance where brevity can save lives.

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