Study: Reduce quorum for Annual Town Meeting

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/10/2020 4:43:46 PM
Modified: 7/10/2020 4:43:35 PM

ATHOL — It appears there will be some changes made in the way Athol conducts business at its Annual Town Meeting, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 14. The town’s Selectboard will consider recommendations presented at its meeting last week.

“There was a team that the Board of Selectmen had authorized to work through the mechanics of how to conduct a Town Meeting,” said Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, “and also to discuss the quorum. The recommendation was that we establish a quorum — due to the COVID pandemic — of 50.”

The town charter currently sets the quorum for a Town Meeting at one percent of the town’s registered voters. As of June 22, the date of the annual town election, there were 7,127 people registered to vote in Athol, meaning a quorum of 72 would normally be required to conduct business.

“But the recommendation,” Suhoski continued, “was 50, and if the board is inclined to do that, (Administrative Assistant) Bridget (Sullivan) would arrange to publish a notice at least seven days in advance of your next meeting, so that there’s a wider audience and outreach for people that want to comment on the temporary change in the quorum requirement.”

As for the actual logistics of the meeting, Town Clerk Nancy Burnham said, “I do know that we’re pretty much going to go by the governor’s orders. We’re going to recommend that people wear masks. We certainly are going to adhere to social distancing, keeping chairs six feet apart.

“We figure we can hold about 120 people on the main floor. For check-in, we’re going to be in the hallway, and we’re going to have people stationed by the elevator. We’ll have two entrances. People will come in through the main door and, obviously, through the handicap accessible door.”

Other arrangements include a separate seating area for anyone failing to wear a mask.

Also, said Suhoski, “The Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee would be spaced out on the floor (of the hall) in front of the stage, with proper distancing. The chairs of Finance and Selectboard, the town manager, town clerk, moderator, town counsel would be on the stage.

“With the help of AOTV providing (disposable) microphone covers, we’ll have one or two microphones on the floor. So, we think we can do this in a safe and orderly manner.”

Burnham added that accommodations can be made, if necessary, for attendees to utilize seating in the balconies of Memorial Hall if the main floor should reach capacity.

“We talked about one person every three seats and using every other row,” said Burnham. “So, we certainly have plenty of space.”

The board voted unanimously to take up the matter of reducing the quorum at its next meeting, scheduled for July 21. Anyone who would like to provide input on the reduction in the quorum prior to the public hearing can send their comments to selectmen@townofathol.org.

The board also voted without dissent to endorse the overall plan for convening the annual town meeting.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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