Southborough Board of Selectmen postpones Town Meeting

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By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer

Town Meeting attendees sat spaced out from one another in Trottier Middle School for Southborough’s most recent Town Meeting on Nov. 1. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

SOUTHBOROUGH – The Southborough Board of Selectmen recently agreed to postpone the planned March 26 Town Meeting to sometime in April or May with a date to be determined.

Town Counsel had advised selectmen that, under Mass General Law, the board has the ability to override a bylaw that specifies the meeting should start on a Saturday in March.

Prior to reaching a consensus on the matter during its Jan. 4 meeting, the board weighed the pros and cons of holding an outdoor versus an indoor session. They also discussed moving the location of the meeting to Northborough and the effects the change would have on conducting town business.

The issue will be addressed again at the board’s Jan. 18 meeting.

Community members reach out

Chair Lisa Braccio said she heard from about 20 townspeople concerning the March date.

They were concerned about a potential crowd meeting indoors while COVID-19 rates continue to rise, she said.

Earlier, Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski, who also serves on the Board of Health, said the Board of Health felt the meeting could be held in March with protocols in place such as wearing masks, sitting six feet apart and spreading out participants across several rooms.

That setup last November for Southborough’s Special Town Meeting worked well, several speakers said.

However, depending on the nature of warrant articles this spring, there is a possibility that planned town meeting facilities would not be large enough to accommodate more than 400 people who may show up, according to Town Clerk Jim Hegarty.

The Algonquin High School field in Northborough could be used instead, Hegarty said, noting that it is better to have too much space than too little.

Moderator Paul Cimino noted that the COVID-19 situation may be at a point in the spring where people will feel more comfortable meeting indoors. He said the Algonquin gym and auditorium would be able to accommodate participants.

Officials discuss limitations on selecting new date

Cimino also praised the town clerk’s ability to make sufficient arrangements no matter what is decided.

“Inside, outside, sooner, later, he’s got it covered,” Cimino said. “That’s how Jim rolls.”

Town Administrator Mark Purple noted the town should avoid holding Town Meeting in mid or late June because it is too close to the end of the fiscal year. That timeframe proved challenging for staff in 2020 when Town Meeting was delayed until that point, Purple said.

Hegarty further said it would be difficult to have the meeting during the same week as the town election in mid-May.

The board talked about the need to coordinate dates with the recreation department, school sports and other activities to avoid conflicts.

“We’ll make it work safely for everyone,” Hegarty added.