Harwich To Consider Lowering Town Meeting Quorum

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Town Meeting

Town Engineer Griffin Ryder designed this schematic layout for the annual town meeting to be held at the stadium field at Monomoy Regional High School on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 10 a.m.  COURTESY TOWN OF HARWICH

HARWICH — Selectmen are considering whether to reduce the quorum for the Sept. 26 annual town meeting to as low as 15 registered voters.

On Monday, according to the agenda, the board will “vote pursuant (to Massachusetts General Law) to reduce the quorum for the annual town meeting…to no less than 10 percent of the quorum requirement of 150 under section 271- 2 of the Town Code, or 15 registered voters.”

Moderator Michael D. Ford said in an email that he recognizes setting the quorum is customarily the province of the voters. “I was initially hesitant to approve of the reduction,” he wrote, adding that he believes the board has taken positive steps to create a safe environment for the meeting, which will take place at the playing field behind Monomoy Regional High School. Those steps include holding the meeting outdoors, designing the layout of the meeting to observe social distancing requirements, and working with the guidance of town staff, including the board of health, regarding protocols to be followed during the meeting, including requiring face masks.

The steps taken are in an effort to get as many voters to attend as possible, Ford said, and he believes the meeting will end up attracting in excess of the established quorum of 150 voters.

“If, however, we fall short of the established quorum, notwithstanding the efforts to create a safe and attractive meeting place, I understand the need to be able to conduct town meeting in order to authorize the town to continue to function during this state of emergency,” he wrote. “Accordingly, I would support a quorum reduction if the board so votes.”

As Ford referenced, a mandatory mast order will be in place for the meeting. The board of health voted the order last week as an extension of the provision they put in place a few weeks ago requiring that pedestrians along Route 28 in Harwich Port, from Bank Street to Lower County Road, wear face covering.

Health Director Meggan Eldredge put the new amendment before the health board last week, explaining town meeting attendees would be required to wear masks from the time they leave their vehicles in the parking lot at Monomoy Regional High School and funnel through the gate to the stadium field and take their seats.

The masks can be removed while seated and when speaking.

“It’s a very prudent idea,” health board member Sharon Pfleger said when offering the motion to put the extended mask order in place.

There would be accommodations made for people who have medical issues and exemptions from the wearing of masks, Eldredge said.

Town Engineer Griffin Ryder presented selectmen with a schematic plan for seating on the field. It shows 423 seats laid out in alternating single and double sets of chairs that are spaced a minimum of six feet apart. The main seating area will be separated into quadrants with a 12-foot-wide aisle in between.

There were another 70 seats proposed for the southern end of the field for people not wearing masks, but Ryder said Monday night, they would not be necessary given the health board’s order to wear masks.

At the end of the field, tables and chairs, six-feet apart, are designated for the board of selectmen, town administrator and finance director and finance committee. There will be a 10-by-10-foot area in front of the row of tables for the moderator and town clerk.

Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter has informed town officials that all types of foot wear are acceptable on the turf and “staff and taxpayers need not worry about hurting the turf.”