Covid-19 image
"The declaration contains a lot of boilerplate language.”

-- Town Counsel Doug Heim.

UPDATED, March 26: In its first remote meeting held under changed state rules, the Select Board on Monday, March 23, unanimously approved a state of emergency for the Town of Arlington and supported steps to postpone the town election and Town Meeting until June. 

Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019

More than 80 people participated using Zoom, an online videoconferencing platform, wherever their devices were.

“We’ve made it clear to the public the seriousness of heeding our recommendations and guidelines. The importance of a town state of emergency gives us potential eligibility for state and federal funds,” said Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine.

“A declaration of emergency has already taken place in other communities, such as Brookline and Somerville. The declaration contains a lot of boilerplate language, and stems from the National Emergency Management Association,” said Town Counsel Doug Heim.

“A local declaration of emergency includes the power to receive financial aid and the ability to have greater financial flexibility to respond to an emergency. It doesn’t suspend Select Board meetings or mean martial law. The primary purpose in Arlington is to give access to certain emergency funds and resources within greater Boston or the Commonwealth,” added Heim.

Declaration amended

However, the Select Board unanimously agreed to amend the declaration. It will now last until either the town manager notifies the Select Board that the purposes of a state of emergency are no longer present or the Select Board votes to lift the state of emergency, and that the state of emergency will not extend past June 30 without action by the board.

“The town manger already has the authority to preside over town personnel, so this is not an extraordinary change. Health regulations have power vested by the Board of Health, and a declaration like this might help them enforce those measures,” explained Heim.

Select Board member John Hurd said, “I have the utmost faith in our town manager. He’s someone we look to for guidance on how we vote, because he’s updated daily by town and state officials. This lets citizens know we’re taking this seriously.”

Precinct 21 Town Meeting member Jordan Weinstein asked whether under this state of emergency, “Can Arlington police force be given expanded powers?”

Heim responded: “There’s nothing in the provision that provides the police department with a relaxation of due process or to conduct searches or anything of that nature. It’s merely tied to a response to the public health emergency, and those most likely affected are public health officials.”

For a list of closures and restrictions, see the town website at www.arlingtonma.gov

Annual town election postponed

The board unanimously voted to postpone the April 4 local election to June 6 or 13, or a date thereafter.

“I’m in favor of postponing elections because circumstances warrant this. It’s extraordinary that this type of vote would happen,” said board member Dan Dunn.

Hurd concurred, “I’m on board with postponing.”

Town Moderator John Leone said, “My only concern is that the election happens before Town Meeting. Town Meeting can be postponed in 30-day increments, and there’s a lot of interest in Town Meeting at this time. We want to have the new Select Board member in place by then.”

“We can work out a schedule that allows for a town election before Town Meeting, and those postponements could be consecutive to achieve this purpose,” said Heim.
“A few hours ago, Governor Baker signed into law a bill to postpone town elections due to the coronavirus, which was endorsed by Senator Cindy Friedman and Representative Sean Garballey. This law allows a Select Board, in consultation with town officials and the board of registrars, to choose a date up until June 30.”

Precinct 9 Town Meeting member Michael Ruderman said, “I urge the board to set a date for the election. Everyone campaigning for a seat has decisions to make regarding their campaign, such as when to contact people for votes.”

Heim said: “The Select Board is postponing the election, following consultations with our local officials’ vote to reschedule municipal elections. It’s difficult to build out a timeline because the health situation is rapidly changing. The Select Board will have to deal with a certain amount of uncertainty no matter what.” 

Absentee ballots

Hurd noted: “If people vote by mail, the election could hypothetically be earlier. We wouldn’t need to further extend the date if the health crisis isn’t over by then.” 

Board Chair Diane Mahon said, “We need to consider that everyone has the right to exercise their vote, and the right to stay safe and healthy.” 

Heim added: “The bill provides an increased opportunity to vote by absentee. This can accelerate when we’d hold the election, but only if we have the ballot resources to make that widely available, and we don’t have enough absentee ballots to distribute to all the voters.”

When Town Meeting member Weinstein interjected, “There are plenty of printers that’ll print what you want and put them in envelopes for you,” Dunn responded, “This isn’t something we can take on ourselves. It requires an act of the Legislature.” 

Heim concurred, “The absentee ballots must be derived from the secretary of state’s office. There are some logistical hurdles we’d need to address.”

Annual Town Meeting postponed

The board voted unanimously to accept receipt of a letter that Town Moderator John Leone wrote to postpone the annual meeting, originally scheduled to start April 27. Read the full letter >> 

The letter states, “The moderator may ‘recess and continue’ Town Meeting to a date within 30 days of the declaration of recess and continuation.”

“My intention is to finalize the letter tomorrow to postpone the Town Meeting from April 27 by 30 days to May 27, Leone said, vowing to provide it to all local media outlets. If it appears necessary, he said he would.

“However, if we postpone too long, it will it have negative effects on the zoning articles. We’ll have to play this along as it goes. We can separate the seats in Town Hall by 6 feet, and have Town Meeting members socially distance themselves. Another option is to hold Town Meeting on Arlington High’s football field, separating everyone by six feet. If necessary, we can spend 1/12 of the previous year’s budget each month until a new budget is approved,” added Leone.

Chapdelaine responded: “We can monitor this as we proceed. It’s highly unlikely there will be an all-clear sounded before June. The board should have this discussion by a June time frame.” 

Heim explained, “The town moderator has the authority to postpone Town Meeting where conditions make it so that Town Meeting members cannot safely attend the meeting. Our quorum requires 25 percent attendance (62 members), and a minimum of 85 persons to vote on substantive matters that require a two-thirds majority. Neither of these things seem feasible. The Legislature says we can alter that. We can postpone Town Meeting up to 30 days, and the town moderator can then postpone another 30 days if the same conditions persist.

Board member Joseph Curro Jr., speaking on Zoom with an image of Town Hall behind him, commented, “I hope we can find a solution that doesn’t involve relaxing the quorum requirements. That would signal this health crisis is still with us, and would affect the senior members and those with underlying health issues.”

Patriots Day parade canceled

Arlington’s annual Patriots Day parade, originally scheduled for 3 p.m. April 19 was canceled because of the state of emergency.

“Although this is very disappointing, the decision has been made with the best interest of public health and our most vulnerable citizens in mind,” wrote Laura Munsey, Health & Human Services, in a memo to the Select Board.

“It’s a great community event, and I look forward to it next year,” said Mahon.

Ice cream fund-raiser

The Arlington High School Scoops Club plans to hold an ice cream fund-raiser on May 23, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., on the Jefferson Cutter House lawn, as unanimously approved by the board.

“I’m in touch with a club member, and will let them know that holding the event depends on the current state of emergency," Curro said.

JJ Gardner gift

The board unanimously accepted a generous donation from JJ Gardner. The Arlington resident held a fund-raiser for  the town's Domestic Violence Fund at the Elks.

“I want to thank the donors, who were Elks fund-raisers,” said Mahon. 

New election worker

The board unanimously approved David Morrissette, Precinct. 18, as a new election worker.


March 24, 2020: Stay-home order in effect statewide


This news summary, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2020, and updated March 26, to add detail about a gift.