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Lynnfield Town Meeting and coronavirus

Greetings Lynnfield Neighbors:

As many of us know, State law requires that we complete our Annual Town Meeting before July 1, and we have a Charter provision (§ 2-3-1), which requires that it begin on the last Monday in April, which this year is April 27th. The warrant for the meeting is in draft form, and during the coming week, the Select Board, Finance Committee, and School Committee will decide how they recommend that Town Meeting attendees vote.

As many also know, occasionally, we have a difficult time getting a quorum (of 175) at Town Meeting. In light of the current public health pandemic, perhaps nobody will show up at the April 27th meeting. So, I am posting this statement to let the town know that we are watching this situation closely, but it is a fast-moving problem. I have been in contact with Town Counsel, the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel, and others to decide the best course of action; there are many plates in the air, so stay tuned.

Our bylaw requires the Select Board to post the warrant for the ATM and town election, but there is a statute (G.L. c. 39, Sec. 10A) that allows the Moderator and town clerk to “recess and continue” the meeting to a date within 30 days. That is a decision that I would make only after consulting with the Select Board and “local public safety officials,” which in this case would include the Director of Public Health. If I do recess the meeting, I am required to announce it “as far in advance of the town meeting … as is practicable.” In that case, I will post a notice in the Town Clerk’s office, have the Constable post it as he does the warrant, post to media outlets, and the Town Administrator will put it on the town’s website. But there is something of a gap in State law in this situation because I can only postpone the meeting for up to 30 days, and we must approve our budget in a timely fashion.

At this moment, the governor and the legislature are working on emergency legislation to allow for Select Boards to opt-in to lowering or suspending the quorum requirement for town meetings and setting rules to allow for a solution if we cannot have Town Meeting before the June 30th deadline.

I do not know where this is going, but rest assured that officials in the executive and legislative branches of state government are well aware of the issue and together with representative groups such as Massachusetts Moderators Association, and the Massachusetts Municipal Association are working on a solution. Given the level of uncertainty, the best thing for us to do as a small town is to continue moving forward to the April 27 meeting, monitor the situation, and be prepared to adjust as circumstances and guidance change.

Hope to see you at Town Meeting,

Joe Markey
Town Moderator