By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Westborough Town Moderator John Arnold expects the community will adopt the same safety measures it used last year to conduct this spring’s Annual Town Meeting (ATM).
The town held an annual session as well as two Special Town Meetings in 2020.
The Board of Selectmen is considering postponing the ATM because of the pandemic until a date when residents may feel more confident about attending.
Arnold said that he worked closely with the Board of Health and other officials developing a set-up where voters could sit six to eight feet apart, masked and see and hear everything across three rooms.
Along with Arnold, the town clerk, deputy moderator and assistant town clerk were in the high school gyms and auditorium to assist in running the proceedings.
“It got complicated but worked remarkably well and there was no super spread of the virus as a result of the meeting,” Arnold noted.
Although attendance was down with approximately 150 to 175 voters, Arnold said that came as no surprise given the circumstances.
“The disappointing part is that people who deserve to be heard, the elderly and others with health conditions,” did not participate, he said.
Westborough has about 12,000 registered voters.
Arnold said that he is grateful to voters for tolerating all the extra precautions such as the wiping down of the podium between speakers and the set-up of chairs to maintain distancing.
He believes those measures will continue at least through 2021.
Working with other officials for the residents
Arnold is in his seventh year of the elected position. He devotes many hours in between Town Meetings watching selectmen, advisory finance and other board meetings to keep up to date with issues going on.
His other duties include appointing people to boards like the Capital Planning Committee. In the upcoming annual meeting, one article seeks to establish a board to look into whether or not to change the town seal. If approved, Arnold expects to make those selections.
A former finance board member, Arnold added that he’s been involved in governmental matters for most of his life.
Pre-COVID-19, he did events encouraging people to register to vote and explaining Town Meeting’s role as Westborough’s legislative body.
“The best part of being moderator is the feeling that I’m making a difference in the tenor and process of self-government,” he said.
The moderator is charged with maintaining order and keeping track of local rules such as allowing a person to speak for or against an article for two to three minutes only.
The person can ask follow-up questions and with Town Meeting’s permission, can opine a second time once all other speakers are done.
Because people sometimes feel they don’t have a voice, Arnold said he wants to “advocate for the process so they feel comfortable speaking” at Town Meeting.
Although the moderator cannot support a cause and remains impartial on articles, he can teach others how to be “citizen legislators,” Arnold said.
“As long as voters get the ability to have their say and discussions are kept civil,” Arnold feels satisfied.
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