Town Meeting logo

UPDATED Feb. 6: Citing "significant interest, especially among Town Meeting members," Town Moderator Greg Christiana announced Wednesday, Feb. 1, that this spring's annual meeting is expected to be held in person only.

The statement on the Town Meeting members' email list weighed ongoing concerns about Covid-19.

Jordan Weinstein, Precinct 21 Town Meeting member, has some questions >>

Town Meeting last met in person at Town Hall in spring 2019. It met in person outdoors in June 2020.

Assessing risks

Christiana said he had spoken to town officials, including Christine Bongiorno, director of health and human services; Town Manager Sandy Pooler; and those most familiar with facilities to assess the risks of meeting in person and logistical considerations of various options for meeting in person or remotely.

"While Town Meeting is several weeks away, and the level of risk from Covid-19 continues to fluctuate by the week, I want to provide an update on our planning efforts so that Town Meeting members and candidates can plan accordingly," he wrote.

"At this point, I have decided to proceed with planning for an in-person Town Meeting in April. The most likely venue is the Town Hall auditorium, where Town Meeting had convened regularly prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Prioritizing health safety is a top priority in every aspect of this decision and the planning process. However, it should be recognized that the threat posed by Covid-19 may never be completely eliminated."

"It is my belief that the vitality of Town Meeting as an institution will be strengthened by meeting in person this year."

In his statement, Christiana cited an important factor "the health of the institution of Town Meeting. It is my belief that the vitality of Town Meeting as an institution will be strengthened by meeting in person this year.

"Remote Town Meeting has been challenging on multiple fronts, not least of which is the tendency for remote Town Meetings to take much longer than comparable in-person ones, and this has fatigued and frustrated many participants. It is important for a democratic institution to take into account the needs and preferences of its members.

Notes survey results to date

"With that in mind, I have been following the responses to the Town Meeting survey that was sent to Town Meeting members last week. While the survey remains open as of this writing, roughly half of Town Meeting members have already responded, and two clear trends have emerged among the responses concerning the meeting format and Covid risks.

"First, a sizable majority of respondents consider the current risks from Covid-19 for an in-person meeting to be acceptable. Second, a small number of respondents have indicated a preference for completely remote meetings. (Note that while there is a lot of interest in a hybrid Town Meeting, i.e. a combination of in-person and remote participation, that is not an option at this time.)"

He noted several ways to lessen the risks of Covid exposure at an in-person Town Meeting that were not enumerated in the survey. "With such mitigations in place, I believe an even larger portion of members will find the accommodations acceptable.

'Take every reasonable precaution'

"We will take every reasonable precaution to ensure the safety of participants during Town Meeting. For instance, we are making plans for a section of socially distanced seating, apart from the main seating area, to accommodate members who require an additional level of safety. In addition, we are exploring ways to improve air flow and filtration.

"The town will take these additional steps as well: offer Covid vaccine booster clinics, Covid test kits and KN95 masks to all Town Meeting members; recommend that participants test before attending and refrain from attending if exhibiting symptoms; and make hand sanitizer readily available onsite.

"We are making every effort to ensure that participation at Town Meeting is not just safe, but [also] inclusive and equitable as well. Plans are underway to ensure that members who choose distanced seating will have equitable access to meeting displays, the speaker queue and microphones. I will be reaching out to Town Meeting members in the coming weeks with more information about accommodations, recommendations and resources.

"The Covid situation remains unpredictable, and it may be necessary to adjust our plans as conditions change. I appreciate everyone's understanding as we navigate these uncertain circumstances. I am confident that together we can make this year's annual Town Meeting safe, equitable and productive."

This news announcement was published Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, and updated Feb. 6, to add link to email.