SELECTMEN NEWS: Board Grapples With Banning Events On Date Of Annual Town Meeting To Boost Attendance

WILMINGTON, MA — At last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting, board members debated the merits of eliminating all town-sponsored events on the date of Annual Town Meeting as a means of reducing conflicts and encouraging residents to attend Town Meeting.

After nearly 25 minutes of discussion, Selectman Kevin Caira’s motion to eliminate town-sponsored events during Annual Town Meeting passed 4-1, with Selectman Eaton voting in opposition. The ban will go into effect beginning in 2021.

The discussion was initiated by Selectmen Chair Greg Bendel, after noticing the Wilmington Recreation Department had organized a trip to New York City on Saturday, May 2, 2020 — the same date as this year’s Annual Town Meeting.

Bendel prefaced his remarks by noting that Wilmington Recreation Department is “second to none,” and that their trips are well-attened and fantastically planned. Nevertheless, he was concerned with the timing of their next trip.

“We’ve spent a lot of time encouraging people to attend [Town Meeting],” said Bendel. “This is counter productive to be sending people out of state…. I don’t want to ship people to New York City when we’re trying to encourage people to come and vote on a $100+ million budget.”

Selectman Kevin Caira agreed with Bendel, revealing that — last year when Caira was Chair — he had instructed Town Manager Jeff Hull to tell send a letter to his department heads to advise them not to hold events during Annual Town Meeting.

“This is not acceptable. Someone lost some common sense by scheduling [thia trip] on thua date,” said Caira. “You have 52 weeks. You can find another day to go to New York City.”

Hull noted he didn’t recall having that conversation with Caira, but did accept responsibility for the situation, saying he “missed the boat on this one.”

Hull then asked how far Selectmen wanted to go with eliminating conflicts during Town Meeting. He noted that the Recreation Department had permitting authority over town fields and parks. Hull mentioned that Wilmington Youth Soccer, Wilmington Little League, and a cricket club already have already been granted permits during Annual Town Meeting for Yentile Farm, the Whitefield, Town Park, Rotary Park, and the fields behind Town Hall.

While Bendel and Caira did not want to have the town revoke or withhold permits to youth sports on Annual Town Meeting date, Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony was open to such a move, noting in-town Wilmington Youth Soccer games have been moved from Saturdays to Sundays for the weekend of Annual Town Meeting multiple times before.

Ultimately, denying field permits was not included in the final mention, so youth sports will be free to continue to play games on town fields during Annual Town Meeting.

O’Mahony did share her colleague’s concerns regarding the out-of-state trip.

“My specific concern for this year’s Town Meeting is we have 3 big articles concerning build a new Senior Center and a majority of people who go on the rec trips are seniors,” said O’Mahony. “Seniors may not have remembered that it was also Town Meeting date when they signed up for their trip.”

Selectman Jonathan Eaton was supportive of eliminating out-of-state recreation trips during Annual Town Meeting, but wanted this year’s trip to remain unaffected.

Unlike his colleagues, however, Eaton opposed a ban on all town-sponsored events during Annual Town Meeting, noting the Wilmington Memorial Library, for example, plans programs on Saturdays. Hull mentioned library currently has four programs booked during Annual Town Meeting on May 2.

“People have the right to make their own decisions,” added Eaton. “Voting is a right, not an obligation.”

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