Northborough delays town meeting, plans to move eventual gathering outside

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By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Northborough – Facing constituent concerns over COVID-19, Northborough officials delayed and relocated the June 22 town meeting, scheduling the event for July 11 at 9 a.m. on the Algonquin Regional High School football field.

Town Moderator Fred George wrote via a public statement June 16 that the move aims to increase accessibility by allowing residents to attend and vote while minimizing their risk of coronavirus exposure.

“I issue this third declaration after careful consideration about the implications of the rapid spread of the disease, present lack of containment, and risk to the most vulnerable populations inherent with public gatherings at this time,” he said.

This is, as George said, the third time Northborough has delayed its meeting since the coronavirus hit in mid-March.

Town meeting originally would have taken place April 27 had officials not moved roughly a week ahead of time, to delay it to May 27.

As that May 27 date arrived, though, even with Massachusetts beginning to reopen, selectmen unanimously agreed to postpone again, settling on June 22 as a new date.

At the time, selectmen and town officials agreed Northborough should make every effort to actually meet in June particularly to pass a new town budget before the next fiscal year starts July 1.

Some residents, however, saw things differently.

“This scenario does not account for our immune compromised town members, our elderly town members, and just town members in general like myself who are trying to follow guidelines,” one such resident, Sherry Clark, wrote in a Community Advocate letter to the editor earlier this month.

Others echoed her plea online.

“This seems like a disaster waiting to happen,” one member of the Northborough Community Group on Facebook said.

“I think we should probably wait,” another person noted.

George said he heard these concerns and factored them into his eventual decision to move outside.

“That seems to be the best solution,” he said. “It seems to be the best way to do it.”

According to current plans, residents will social distance at town meeting with at least six feet between one another with an option to scatter even more.

Beyond that, George anticipates the health department will station personnel at the microphones residents will use to ask questions and voice opinions during warrant article discussions. After each comment, George said, those Board of Health workers will quickly sanitize microphones themselves.

The town may also pass over articles deemed unnecessary as well, a move that other towns like Hudson have also taken in attempts to speed up their town meetings and minimize the duration of any possible exposure.

Still, there will be challenges.

“We have not done this before,” George said. “Our friend Mother Nature will have the final say on this through whether we have reasonable weather.”

As such, George noted he has already booked a rain date for the town meeting if storms mar July 11.

Weather aside, George said he’s also working with Algonquin grounds crews to determine how to gather a crowd on the football field without damaging it. As some neighboring communities have organized similar outdoor town meetings in recent weeks and months, many, George said, have had the luxury of turf fields at their disposal.

Algonquin does not boast such amenities.

“What can you put on the field?” he asked. “Things like that are a concern.”

Regardless of questions, George said he’s happy to have a new date for town meeting and feels confident that he and his municipal colleagues will be able to organize the event in a safe and secure manner.

To read George’s full declaration, visit https://www.town.northborough.ma.us/sites/northboroughma/files/uploads/third_declaration_of_recess_and_continuance_of_2020_annual_town_meeting