Board of Selectmen Approves Outdoor Venue For Town Meeting

Town Meeting in the Hingham High School gymnasium in 2017

On Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, the Board of Selectmen voted to approve, adopt and sign the Warrant for Town Meeting and to reschedule Town Meeting for Saturday, June 20th at 2:00 p.m., with a rain date of Sunday, June 21st, and to hold it outdoors at the Hingham High School field.  Other towns, like Hull, are also planning on holding their Meeting outdoors.


"The Board of Selectmen has since determined that it is in the best interest of the residents of the Town of Hingham to hold the Hingham Annual Town Meeting outdoors and during the day," Selectmen Joe Fisher read from the Motion, "to protect the public health of the inhabitants of the Town of Hingham during the COVID-19 public health emergency."


Chair Karen Johnson started the meeting by saying, "We have one item on the agenda today," referring to the vote on the Warrant.  "It's a fairly routine exercise," she continued, "but in the world we are living in today, nothing is a routine exercise."  She pointed out that "over the past month or so, all of us have been thinking 'what about Town Meeting?'" before kicking off discussion about an alternative to holding it in the high school gymnasium.


Because Town Meeting is a legislative body, it is not subject to the Governor's order regarding gathering sizes.  "That said, we are a gathering in excess of 10," said Karen, "so how do we best gather and where do we best gather to conduct the business of the town?"  

Accommodations for seniors and handicapped accessibility were brought up but determined to not be "novel issues" given the various activities - like graduation, which has been cancelled this year - that are held on the field.  Town Administrator Tom Mayo pointed out that there are four entrances to the field that all are accessed through double-wide gates, and he also said that the Chief of Police, Fire Chief and Health Agent were all in favor of the proposal.

Selectman Mary Power asked for clarification on what led to the recommendation to move forward with the entire Warrant.  "Is there going to be an appropriate level of deliberation?" she asked before pointing out that other communities are looking at truncating their Warrants in order to address only the Articles that are absolutely necessary and then scheduling another longer Meeting for the fall.  "One of our responsibilities is to give people the best change of attending," said Mary, "but another is that Town Meeting has the best chance to consider the Articles."

Karen responded by saying that Town Moderator Michael Puzo will be reviewing the Warrant and may consider bundling some of the "like" articles together into one vote in order to be more efficient.  "The perennial Articles," said Karen. "There are probably ten of those."  The reason given for not postponing a full Warrant review was that there are a couple of Articles that are considered timely.  These include the purchase of the Benjamin Lincoln House and money for the construction of the new Public Safety Building.  "If we're going to ask 300 people show up," added Karen referring to the number required for a quorum," we should have business for those 300 people to do." 

There is legislation pending in Ways and Means on Beacon Hill that would allow Hingham to reduce its quorum to 10% of its minimum, which would be 30 voters.  However concerns were expressed about having only 30 people approve a budget that is over $120M on behalf of 23,000 residents.  Other legislation would allow for remote participation which is currently prohibited for Open Town Meeting but was approved for Representative Town Meeting.

Joe pointed out that Arlington had sought approval from taxpayers prior to moving forward with Town Meeting and suggested that Hingham may want to consider doing the same.  He also asked if there were a way to know ahead of time what Articles the Selectmen would decide to hold off on if circumstances for Town Meeting changed, given that they sponsored most of them.  The idea of doing more outreach on the Warrant Articles than has been done in previous years was mentioned.  "In the past we've held our cards close to the vest because we've wanted people to come to the Meeting," said Karen.

Mary raised the question about the ability to do presentations on the field.  "That's not a requirement of Town Meeting," she said. "Presentations are more a courtesy.  I have a hard time thinking of spacing people out on a field and seeing the presentations."  Tom responded by saying that they may decide to do handouts instead, like Hull is doing.  "(Assistant Town Administrator) Michelle (Monsegur) and I were throwing around the idea of packets," he said. "Putting packets on 'socially-distanced' chairs."

Additional discussion included holding the Moderator's Meeting at the high school field and the possibility of moving Voting Precinct 5A, which is at Linden Ponds, to the middle school.  The latter will be voted on at the Selectmen's meeting on Tuesday, May 28th.

Current Warrant Articles are: 

A    Hannah Lincoln Whiting Fund
B    Assume Liability for DCR on Rivers, Harbors, Etc.
C    Reports of Various Town Committees
D    Report of the Personnel Board
E    Salaries of Town Officers
F    Budgets
G    Transfer from the Stabilization Fund
H    Disbursement of Electric Light Department Receipts
I    Building Department Revolving Fund
J    Department of Elder Services Revolving Fund
K    Transfer Funds to the Reserve Fund
L    Acceptance of Easements
M    Community Preservation Committee
N    Amendment to Council on Aging By-laws
P    Water: Modify Size of Citizens Advisory Board
Q    Water: Funding for Water Capital Improvements
R    Water: Local Acceptance of M.G.L. c. 40, § 42A through 42I
S    Additional Funds for Foster School Feasibility Study
U    COLA Adjustments for Retirees
V    IT Department Upgrades
X    Town-wide Facilities Study
Y    Acceptance of Solar PILOT agreement 1
Z    Acceptance of Solar PILOT agreement 2
AA    Citizen Petition: Tree Preservation By-Law
CC    Maintenance Facility for the South Shore Country Club
DD    Citizen Petition: Hingham Cemetery Expansion
GG    Discontinuance and Disposition of Portion of Old Derby Street
II    Transfer of Insurance Funds Related to High School Fire
JJ    Transfer of Insurance Funds Related to East School Flood
KK    Climate Action Planning
MM    Community Preservation Committee-Benjamin Lincoln House
NN    Public Safety Facility Feasibility & Design Funds
OO    Public Safety Facility Building Committee
PP    Senior Center Building Committee
QQ    Design Funds for Senior Center Renovations
AAA    Amend Zoning By-law: Lot Coverage
BBB    Amend Zoning By-law: Site Plan Review
CCC    Amend Zoning By-law: Downtown Overlay District
DDD    Amend Zoning By-law: Abandonment or Discontinuance of Nonconforming Single-family & Two-family Dwellings
EEE    Amend Zoning By-law: Update Floodplain Map References