WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington Board of Selectmen is in the process of creating a Town Meeting Review Committee to propose making improvements to Annual Town Meeting, including potentially moving its date. Any date change to Town Meeting would necessitate that the Annual Town Election be moved as well.
At last week night’s Selectmen meeting, Wilmington’s new Town Clerk, Christine R. Touma-Conway, provided the board with a memo that outlined the impacts moving the the Annual Town Election to the third Saturday in March and the Annual Town Election to the fourth Saturday in March would have on her office. Selectman Mike McCoy proposed those date changes for 2020 at a recent Selectmen’s Meeting.
“We undertook a quick survey of other Massachusetts towns inquiring the dates of their annual elections and town meetings,” wrote Touma-Conway. “Of the 115 responses we received, only 7 hold their elections and 5 hold their town meetings in March. The rest fall in the April to June timeframe.”
Touma-Conway stressed that the Town Clerk’s Office, an office with just three employees, is already extremely busy during January through March. On top of its regular workload, the beginning of the calendar year brings special challenges.
“The preparation and mailing of the Annual Town Census, receiving them back and manually processing them” is an enormous task, as is “the solicitation and processing of annual dog registrations, a task which ensures rabies certifications are complete, entering data into the system set up for this purpose, and sending out the licenses and dog tasks.” Touma-Conway also noted that every four years, the Presidential Primary — which includes local and state party elections — occur in March.
“To add annual preparation for both the Town Election and Town Meeting to these tasks would place severe stress upon the staff of the Office of the Town Clerk,” bottom lined Touma-Conway. “During the years of having to run both a local election and presidential primary, it would be necessary to send and process two sets of distinct absentee ballots, which would be no easy task given the likelihood of voter confusion.”
Touma-Conway is also concerned about securing Election Workers in March.
“Another issue that arises is that securing election workers is extremely difficult in the winter months, because many of our experienced workers are so-called ‘snow birds’ who travel south for the colder months,” cautioned Touma-Conway, who noted they are also most susceptible to illness in the winter. “Having to deal with this once every four years [for a Presidential Primary] is difficult, but having to deal with it annually would prove even more of a strain on the staff of the Clerk’s Office.”
The Committee’s Makeup
The makeup of the Town Meeting Review Committee is in flux. Selectmen had previously discussed each appointing three members to the Committee, but that is no longer the plan.
Per the suggestion of Selectman Mike McCoy, and agreed upon by the board, Town Manager Jeff Hull will now reach out to members of the recently disbanded Town Bylaw Review Committee to see how many of them would be interested in serving on the Town Meeting Review Committee, which Selectmen see as a natural offshoot of the committee’s previous work.
Depending on responses from the former Town Bylaw Review Committee members, each Selectmen will receive up to two appointments. Selectmen may choose to appoint themselves, something Selectman Mike McCoy and Selectman Jonathan Eaton expressed interest in possibly doing. (McCoy was the Selectmen’s representative on the Town Bylaw Review Committee.) Selectman Greg Bendel indicated that one of his picks would be a senior citizen suggested to him by Elderly Services Director Terri Marciello, to ensure the seniors have representation on the Committee.
Town Manager Jeff Hull would also like the Selectmen to appoint Town Moderator Rob Peterson, Town Clerk Touma-Conway, and his Administrative Assistant Beverly Dalton to the Committee due to their various roles in the Town Election and Town Meeting processes. (Dalton is under consideration due to her extensive knowledge of the town’s budget preparation process, which will be greatly affected if Town Meeting were to be moved.) In addition to serving himself, Peterson may also get to appoint a person to the Committee. Selectmen would like to see an odd number of members, possibly 11 or 13.
Selectmen intend on making the appointments to this new Committee before this year’s Annual Town Meeting in May.
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