Athol town meeting details nailed down

  • Athol Town Hall. Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 8/6/2020 2:50:42 PM
Modified: 8/6/2020 2:50:33 PM

ATHOL — The Selectboard Tuesday night put the finishing touches on plans for the upcoming Annual Town Meeting, including the required quorum and the meeting location.

“We have had feedback from multiple directions from folks as far as a quorum,” board Chair Rebecca Bialecki said. “A discussion has started on a recommendation to have the quorum — which is the minimum, certainly, no the maximum amount of people for our annual town meeting — to be set at 50. Normally, we have 71 or 72 as our quorum.

“We have discretion as far as bumping that up. I know at our last meeting Mr. Dodge (board member Alan Dodge) had brought up a number of 60. We do know that with social distancing, we do have the ability to seat well over 100 people here, even with the spacing; and that’s certainly more than we normally get at a town meeting.”

Board member Stephen Raymond motioned to set the quorum at 60 but his proposal, due to some initial confusion, received no second. Bialecki went on to explain that without any action by the board, the quorum would remain at 72, as required by the Town Charter.

Raymond’s motion was subsequently seconded by Dodge and approved unanimously.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski then explained that the vote to reduce the quorum would, under a recently-passed state law, apply to any town meeting held while the statewide state of emergency declared in response to the coronavirus remains in effect. That means the quorum for the fall town meeting, currently scheduled for October, would also be set at 60.

Annual Town Meeting site

Discussion on a location for the annual conclave was a bit more involved.

Bialecki said an advisory committee established to consider the matter had recommended holding the meeting in Memorial Hall at Town Hall, “with spacing and all of the other Board of Health-recommended measures, with the windows open on both sides of the hall to allow for proper air circulation, and some screening as people enter, so that we can really be certain that everyone’s safety is assured.

“That was the recommendation made by the committee, but it’s now up to the board to make a motion one way or another as to where to hold the town meeting.”

Board member William Chiasson suggested that the gymnasium at Athol High School might provide more space, but Bialecki said that venue is quite similar, in terms of floor space.

“At Town Hall, we have the addition of the balcony, if need be, to add people up in those seats,” she said. “And the air circulation isn’t as good (at the gym), where in the hall we can open the windows on each side. The school was one of the places that was looked at.”

Dodge then made a motion that the meeting be held outside on the athletic field at the high school, a proposal seconded by board member Lee Chauvette, who also serves as chair of the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee.

“Two comments,” Raymond interjected. “One, of course, is the weather. The other is, right now we’re having issues with Triple-E. We’re going to be in a time frame at night, when mosquitoes are going to be out. So, for those two reasons, I’m against having it outside.”

Chiasson seconded Raymond’s concerns.

“I just feel that for the safety of all residents that want to attend,” Dodge explained, “I just don’t feel that inside is an appropriate venue at this point. Now, if the weather doesn’t cooperate with us on a Monday, we’ll just have to move it to the next night.”

He said it didn’t make sense that Town Hall was open for appointments only, yet it was being considered as the location for a large meeting.

“What about mosquitoes?” asked Chiasson.

“What about COVID-19?” Dodge retorted. “I mean, pick your poison, I guess. You’re worried about mosquitoes, and I understand that concern. But I’m also concerned about the transmission of COVID-19.”

“So, we’re between a rock and a hard place,” said Bialecki. “I don’t know that there’s any one right decision. But we, as a board, need to make a decision as to what we feel is in the best interest of having as many people who are registered voters be really engaged and active in this annual town meeting in the safest possible way.”

Dodge’s motion to hold the meeting outdoors at the high school was ultimately defeated by a 3-2 margin, with Dodge and Chauvette voting in favor and Bialecki, Raymond, and Chiasson opposed.

A subsequent motion to hold the meeting at Memorial Hall was approved by the same 3-2 vote.

Greg Vine can be reached at

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