By Jennifer L. Grybowski
Westborough – The fall Town Meeting will be held Saturday, Nov. 7 at 9 a.m. at Westborough High School. And although there will be a number of things presented to the voters that day, one thing that will not be on the warrant is the fate of the town seal. That decision was made during the Oct. 6 Board of Selectmen’s meeting.
That seal has been under fire over the past few months due to the fact it displays a cotton gin, which was invented and patented by Westborough resident Eli Whitney in 1794. As many called for changing the logo after the recent racial unrest across the nation this year, an equal amount decried that, saying that the seal was an important part of the town’s history.
Selectmen, in conjunction with Town Clerk Wendy Mickel and Town Moderator John Arnold, decided the change to holding TM on Nov. 7 in the morning, as opposed to a nighttime meeting, was warranted for several reasons, including allowing the school to be properly cleaned and sanitized before the meeting and the hope that the meeting could be concluded in one session. In addition, although officials hope voters stay the entire meeting, it does allow people to easily come and go as necessary, likely reducing the impacts of mass entrances and exits at the meeting.
“It allows for broader participation and provides a chance to get the best representation of folks,” Selectman Ian Johnson said.
After some discussion during the Oct. 6 meeting, officials decided the Nov. 7 TM was not the right time to have an article regarding changing the town seal.
“We want to move through the meeting as expeditiously as possible allowing for as good as discussion as we can. We all know this is a really big hot topic of interest for many residents and I worry about how many people will show up for this specific article alone and the fear people have about the pandemic and not showing up and feeling like their voices aren’t being heard,” Selectman Chair Shelby Marshall said. “I feel like we are in a lose/lose position.”
Selectman Ian Johnson agreed, saying that despite the September Town Meeting going well, officials received comments about the number of people in attendance and the length of the meeting.
“We have to be realistic here about getting the work of the town done,” he said. “I’m not saying this is not important, but I think it can be deferred, and we can get through business that needs to get taken care of as expeditiously and safely as possible.”
Selectman Allen Edinberg said he thought getting community input before going straight to town meeting was the most important thing, and pointed out that the article would simply gain consensus on the direction from residents on if they want to proceed with a process that may lead to a change on the town seal.
“We want to do it in the most inclusive and thoughtful and deliberative way possible,” he said. “I don’t want this seen as a delay or avoidance of an issue, it’s really one about managing the environment and ensuring the broadest participation possible.”
Arnold pointed out that if discussion was what people wanted, Town Meeting was likely not going to facilitate that well.
“After an hour or so, someone could move the question and end debate, so we would have voters who would get frustrated and not have their voice heard,” he said.
Instead, Arnold offered to host and moderate a series of listening sessions where people could sign in to an online meeting and give everybody a few minutes to speak.
“There are ways to do this without having to risk doing it at a Town Meeting where we don’t know how many people will show up,” he said.
Selectmen agreed to push the article off until the spring.
Other items the board considered included support for establishment of the affordable housing trust, DPW items including DPW a new hire, equipment purchases, data collection tools and town water system improvements and certain “housekeeping” bylaw changes. There were some bylaw changes – specifically related to the timing of the town meeting in relation to town elections – that they decided to put off to a future meeting.