Monday’s Town Meeting was an odd and unprecedented affair, but not necessarily in a bad way.
The gymnasium was a great locale for the meeting. With all the lights on and the doors propped wide, it was a bright and airy space—quite a contrast to the dimness of the auditorium where the meeting is traditionally held. The seats weren’t nearly as comfortable however, but perhaps this, along with the bright lights, kept people awake and attentive.
Considering what the world is going through, voter turnout wasn’t all that bad. A total of 144 voters were there. And they came prepared. Not just with masks. They had done their homework and were ready to work through the warrant articles decisively.
We liked having only the chairmen of the finance committee and board of selectmen at the front tables, where usually the entire membership of both boards sit. This made for less commotion during the reading of the motions and recommendations. Sometimes it can be painful to see a nervous board member miss his or her cue, or a sight-impaired member stumble over a long and complicated motion. There was none of that Monday night.
Also, we appreciate the fact that the finance committee chairman waived the reading of his committee’s two-page budget message. Reading that document aloud to the assembly always seems like a waste of time since it is printed in full in the warrant that everyone has in their laps.
Things moved along at a brisk yet surprisingly unhurried pace Monday evening. No one was rushing. No debate was cut off or cut short. Some items of business were combined in the warrant to save time. For instance, rather than voting separately on a handful of enterprise fund transfers, they were grouped together within one article. It was effective and efficient.
The lack of “yeas” and “nays” was a little disconcerting. To avoid having people shout (which can send COVID germs flying), voters were given orange voting cards to silently hold up when it was time to vote. It worked well. The town moderator didn’t seem to suffer because of it. In fact, holding the cards up probably gave him more time to register the vote rather than having to rely on his ears picking up the quick shouts. And it eliminated the rascally “nays” that errant jokesters always seem to throw out there from a shadowy back corner of the auditorium.
The night was not without some disagreement. David Darling was unhappy with the parameters of the senior tax credit and he also wanted to see the new money the town was receiving from the expanded canal plan used to give residents some tax relief.
When the proposed Wing School sale was discussed, attorney Jonathan Fitch spoke articulately against the town’s plans. But the town was ready with a 25-minute presentation that won voters over in a big way.
With the last three warrant articles—all petitions deemed “unessential” for this otherwise essential meeting—postponed, the meeting adjourned less than two hours after it began.
When the pandemic threat finally fades, no one is going to miss COVID-19. Not one bit.
But the threat of sickness and death has forced us to live our lives with more creativity; to rethink the norm and break from tradition. And maybe we’ve learned a few things. And maybe some of those things will stick with us for years, and Town Meetings, to come.