By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Residents say they were confused and frustrated when officials more than halved the quorum for their annual Town Meeting just hours before the event took place, June 22.
Hearing that controversy, Town Administrator Tom Moses explained that the Board of Selectmen made their decision “reluctantly,” also noting that the last-minute vote occurred at the earliest time possible.
“[There was] concern that we would not reach a quorum because of fears of COVID-19,” he said. “Those fears were somewhat unfounded as more than 150 people actually attended the meeting.”
Hudson originally postponed its May 4 town meeting due to COVID-19. Now pressed against the end of the fiscal year, and needing to pass a new budget, officials wanted to move forward with their new date.
Thus, selectmen cut their town meeting quorum from 150 to 70.
That vote was roughly seven hours before the scheduled 7:30pm town meeting start time.
All that was possible thanks to legislation Gov. Charlie Baker signed June 5 allowing municipalities to slash their quorums by up to 90%.
Under the law, towns had to advertise plans at least a week in advance theoretically allowing municipalities to make such moves as early as June 12.
Hudson, though, did not advertise until June 15, explaining, Moses said, the last minute vote.
“There was no last minute information that influenced the decision,” he further clarified.
Town meeting moved forward, even proving, as Moses said, those initial fears of low turnout wrong.
But some residents say they were still frustrated, not just by the quorum confusion, but by the decision to hold the meeting indoors in the first place.
“The Selectmen had ample time to find an outdoor or parking lot option for those of us who could not be in a room with hundreds of people and risk our own health,” said Missy Ansley, who did not attend the meeting out of fears that a recent surgery made her more susceptible to severe COVID-19 illness.
Hudson did consider a variety of options for town meeting, selectmen said at a meeting earlier this month. Ultimately, though, they opted to simply revise plans for an indoor event, putting social distancing measures in place and requiring attendees wear masks.
“I think that would calm people a little bit, knowing that, if they do go to the meeting, then everybody is going to have a mask,” selectman John Parent said at the time.
Ansley was not sufficiently reassured. Citing neighboring communities that moved their meetings outside, she reiterated that she wished Hudson followed suit.
Then speaking out online after the town meeting, Ansley heard a chorus of locals in agreement with her.
“I just wanted to be able to vote and attend the town meeting,” she said. “My safety shouldn’t be taken away to do it.”