WILMINGTON, MA — At its meeting last week, the Wilmington Board of Selectmen voted to hold the 2020 Annual Town Meeting on the Wilmington High School’s softball field, located off of Wildwood Street, on Saturday, June 27, 2020, beginning at 10:30am.
The 3-2 vote came after a 90-minute discussion where members identified other preferred locations. Selectman Kevin Caira wanted the baseball field next to the Wilmington Middle School to be explored. Selectman Mike McCoy asked that the Town Common, with traffic closures similar to the Fourth of July, be reconsidered. Selectman Jonathan Eaton and Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony favored the high school’s baseball field rather than softball field. Ultimately, Eaton and O’Mahony joined Selectmen Chair Greg Bendel in voting in favor of the softball field location, with Caira and McCoy voting in opposition.
The board’s primary concern with the softball field is a lack of immediate parking. The field’s lot only has 14 spots, which would be reserved for handicap parking. A small amount of parking would also be available across the street in the cemetery for anyone needing assistance. Most attendees would have to park at the library’s lower parking lot, high school parking lot, or student parking lot. Selectman Caira referred to the walk as a “country mile” that some seniors just may not be comfortable making.
“My ultimate concern with the softball field location is just making sure that the seniors have access to attend,” said Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony. “It’s tough enough for them to come out and risk the current situation we’re all in. I wouldn’t want to se the logistics of this be another barrier for getting them there”
The softball field, which was the preferred location of the relevant Town Department heads, was chosen, in large part, due to the handicap accessible bathrooms at the field-house nearby and the technology capabilities from the stadium press box nearby. (A town meeting cannot be held on the actual football field as the manufacturer strongly discouraged the town from doing so, unable to guarantee that chairs would not damage the turf. Moreover, on a late June day, the temperature could be a serious issue, as it can feel an additional 30 degrees warmer on a turf field.)
Other locations identified — Shawsheen School field, Yentile Farm, Swain Green, Town Common, Glen Road field, etc. — were ruled off for an assortment of reasons, including — bot not limited to — a combination of parking, traffic, traffic noise, lack of handicap accessible bathrooms, potential technology issues, and concerns from the Fire Chief, Police Chief and Public Buildings Superintendent. The field at the Middle School, Selectman Caira’s suggestion, had not been fully vetted.
The town has rented a giant tent (160 feet by 80 feet) that will accommodate up to 300 people while maintaining a 6-feet radius. Town Manager Hull noted tents of this size will be tough to come by as many towns transition to an outdoor Town Meeting. Wilmington was in competition with the Town of Bedford, who also wanted the tent for its Town Meeting on the same day.
“This won’t look or feel like any other Town Meeting we’ve ever had,” Town Moderator Robert Peterson Jr. told Selectmen. “We’re trying to figure out the best formula to have Town Meeting while keeping everyone safe.”
Peterson explained that the town won’t allow Open Town Meeting to be held virtually, and that the Massachusetts Moderators Association is waiting for guidance and clarification from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on how to hold a safe Town Meeting. Peterson added that Town Meeting, as the town’s legislative body, is exempt from the governor’s limit on gatherings.
“It’s going to be a personal decision of each voter if they want to attend,” said Peterson. “We’re just trying to provide a safe environment.”
Peterson noted that he was originally planning for an indoor Town Meeting at the High School Auditorium, but after speaking with other Town Moderators, the Police Chief, Fire Chief, and Health Director, it became very clear that outdoor locations were safer than indoor locations.
Peterson stressed that communication will be key with residents about changes being made to Town Meeting and protocols that will be followed. A memo will be published on the town’s website soon.
Selectman Jonathan Eaton asked that cold bottles of water be provided to Town Meeting attendees.
Will Everything On The Warrant Get Voted On?
Selectmen will decide at their meeting on Monday, June 8, 2020 which articles will be taken up at the Annual Town Meeting on June 27, 2020 and which may be postponed until a likely special Town Meeting in the fall.
Town Moderator Robert Peterson Jr. hopes to lessen the public health risk by keeping the Town Meeting short. He notes that a consent agenda will be used — lumping together non-controversial items, including articles that tend to get approved unanimously will little or no discussion, into one large vote.
Town Manager Jeff Hull would like to conclude as much of the warrant as possible on June 27, noting, for example, that the town’s current contracts associated with trash and recycling collection expire on June 30. New 5-year contracts with Wheelabrator and Cassella need to be signed.
“There’s planning that goes into all the articles and timing issues on both the school and town side,” said Hull.
“If a second wave is coming, it may come in the fall, according to Health Director Shelly Newhouse” added Selectman Jonathan Eaton. “I’m hesitant to put off specific issues to the fall because the health implications may be worse then than they will be in June.”
One topic, however, that some Selectmen remain uncertain on when to take up invovles warrant articles around a new senior center.
“I want to accomplish everything we can accomplish on June 27. I’d hate to defer some of it to September, and then we have a spike in September and can’t do it again,” said Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony.
But O’Mahony wanted feedback from the Elderly Services Commission as to whether they would prefer a fall meeting to hold the votes associated with the Senior Center.
“Does [the Elderly Services Commission] want the votes to be delayed or do they want the votes on June 27th because they’ve waited long enough? I’ll take my lead from that,” said O’Mahony, who is concerned seniors won’t attend Town Meeting during the pandemic. “I’d like to complete everything on the 27th if possible, but want to make sure everyone feels heard.”
Town Moderator Robert Peterson Jr. noted that the town of Chatham, which has the third oldest population in the state, is also debating a new Senior Center. Their Selectmen have decided to not take the matter up at its Annual Town Meeting in June, but to postpone any vote until a Special Town Meeting on September 19, 2020.
Town Manager Jeff Hull agreed the prospects of considering calling a Special Town Meeting in the fall to address the Senior Center may have merit. Selectmen will discuss the matter at their June 8th meeting. Otherwise, Hull would prefer all other articles be addressed at the June 27th Town Meeting.
In response to a question, Hull also noted that the Town Meeting warrant booklet will not be mailed out to residents this year because the Finance Committee-Planning Board Joint Public Hearing on the warrant is scheduled close to the Annual Town Meeting.
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