By Michael Wyner
Posted at 5:52 PM Updated at 6:22 PM
WAYLAND – Selectmen have unanimously voted to hold Town Meeting from 12:30-5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, at the high school stadium, with the following day from 1-5 p.m. as either a rain date or extra day if more time is needed to finish the warrant.
Selectman Doug Levine emphasized the importance of holding Town Meeting outdoors, noting surges of COVID-19 in other states have been traced to indoor events.
“I can’t in good conscience support any indoor meeting, whenever it may be, in the next few months,” he said, even with full mask compliance and social distancing of 6 to 12 feet. “It’s patently unfair to force people to decide to come to Town Meeting inside while this pandemic is ongoing, no matter how well Massachusetts is doing.”
Town Administrator Louise Miller said capacity at an indoor venue like Wayland High School’s Field House would have been “substantially less than any outdoor venue.” If additional indoor areas of the high school were used to supplement the Field House, such as the auditorium, cafeteria and classrooms, assistant moderators would be needed in each location.
Levine preferred Sept. 12-13 over Aug. 15-16 as the temperature outside will likely be lower.
“Hopefully we can maximize turnout at that time,” he said.
Selectman Mary Antes also noted the summer can be more unpredictable in terms of stormy weather.
“It’s a tough choice,” she said. “We’ll be criticized either way.”
Chairwoman Cherry Karlson had some preference for the August date, as it would allow new board member David Watkins to replace the outgoing Levine earlier and would be less disruptive to the new school year, but yielded to the rest of the board.
Miller said a sound system is already available at the stadium, but would have needed to be rented for other potential outdoor locations such as Wayland Middle School field or the Town Building.
At Wayland High School, Miller warned there is a large distance between the parking lot and stadium, and also from the stadium to restrooms.
Handsets for electronic voting will stay in plastic bags, which will have been disinfected beforehand, for the entire meeting.
Karlson would like to see Town Meeting get completed in two to two-and-a-half hours.
“We’re bringing people together at time when we are all being careful of our health,” Karlson said, “and I don’t think that we should have a group of hundreds of people together, whether it’s inside or outside, for more than a couple of hours, so I think we need to be very efficient.”
Levine said that means substantive debate would be limited to two to four articles, including the fiscal 2021 budget and a proposal to spend Community Preservation Act funds on accessibility issues at two school playgrounds.
A vote for a new roof at Loker School is necessary after residents approved it at the polls by a vote of 1,646-606, in order to take advantage of funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
Eight articles will likely be passed over to a future Town Meeting, including a proposed new turf field at the Loker Conservation and Recreation Area, changing the town administrator position to town manager, moving toward a Community Choice Aggregation program for “greener” electricity options for residents, and a citizen’s petition for the town moderator to appoint Finance Committee members.
Another possible article to pass over would be continuing work on a proposed new Council on Aging/Community Center.
“I feel that this has just been dragged out forever, and to delay it another six months is really unfortunate,” Antes said.
Another 11 articles would be presented under a faster “abbreviated procedure.”
Wayland has not used a consent calendar at previous Town Meetings, in which a bundle of “non-controversial” articles are voted at once with no debate, unless an attendee wants to pull any of them for debate. Moderator Dennis Berry said it would be possible to try this method, but a vote would be required to take “consent calendar” articles out of order.
“I have not wanted to use (a consent calendar) at Town Meeting before, but I’m rethinking that for this meeting,” Berry said. “This is a different meeting than what we’ve had before. People have to get used to that. This is not Town Meeting as usual.”
Berry noted that other communities have seen lower attendance than normal at their Town Meetings.
Michael Wyner can be reached at email@example.com or 508-626-4441.