Westborough officials to decide on new Town Meeting date

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By Jennifer L. Grybowski, Contributing Writer

Westborough – Town officials got together via video chat June 2 night to discuss if Town Meeting could be safely conducted this spring, and if so, what it would look like.

Town Moderator John Arnold officially postponed the meeting to Saturday, June 20 last month due to current restrictions on the gathering of crowds.

“Given the important role of Town Meeting as the legislative body of the town and my obligation to ensure that those who wish to participate are able to participate without undue risk to their health or safety, I have concluded that further delaying the Annual Town Meeting is in the best interest of the Town and its citizens,” he said in a statement.

Things are starting to open up,” Arnold said. “There is some likelihood Town Meeting may be able to happen. The overarching question is do we think June 20 is a feasible date, with the caveat being it’s likely that if that is plausible, there would be safeguards the Board of Health would require. I think it’s in the best interest of the town to inform voters of what the safeguards would be so they can make decisions about if they want to attend.”

BOH and BOS Member Syed Hashmi said he was concerned because the length of exposure is so long at the meetings, with meetings typically running 10 to 11 hours long, and that many of the regular Town Meeting attendees are part of the vulnerable population.

“We do not completely know the risks yet,” he said. “We do not know what the prevalence of COVID-19 is in Westborough. How man people are asymptomatic carriers are not known. We are about to hold a ‘superspreader’ event in our town and it’s for all the right reasons —we are not having a wild party, we are conducting town business — but what is our liability as a town?”

BOH Chair Nathan Walsh said he thought as long as the number of cases continued trending downward, the June 20 date would be feasible.

“We have to take some personal responsibility,” he said. “We will give them the best information we can, but they have to make their own decisions [about whether to attend] because people’s circumstances vary widely.”

Arnold said some towns are hosting meetings outside while others are changing venues in favor of larger areas. He noted that while outdoor meetings allow for fresh air and more distancing, there is the issue of weather and a practical, affordable way to set up a projector and audio.

Instead, he suggested the large gym and the auditorium at the high school. He said both places have adequate ventilation, doors to outside, and higher ceilings to allow for larger air space. He said the library, the smaller gym, and the cafeteria can all be considered as well.

However, he pointed out Town Meeting staff has experience running the meeting simultaneously in two rooms, but not more than that. Walsh pointed out that senior citizens likely need chairs with arms to endure the meeting comfortably, but he also worried about people climbing over each other in and out of the rows in the auditorium. BOS member Allen Edinberg suggested using the second gym as a check-in area, to avoid a bottleneck.

Arnold said that he had received rough numbers from Westborough High School Principal Brian Callaghan showing that with six foot spacing, he thought about 190 people could be in the gym, and another 50 in the auditorium safely. It was also pointed out that people who cohabitant together can sit together, making those numbers a bit larger. Town Clerk Wendy Mickel, who was also at the meeting, said attendance is usually between 150 and 200 people, and hardly ever goes over 300. She added that after the budget passes, the crowd begins to dwindle unless there is a high-stakes item on the warrant; however many warrant items have been pushed off to the fall due to budget concerns.

“I think maybe once people know there are a reduced number of articles, we may get smaller numbers,” Mickel said.