Harwich Lowers Town Meeting Quorum To 100 Voters

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 — It will take only 100 registered voters to reach a quorum for the annual town meeting scheduled to be held at the Monomoy Regional High School stadium field on Saturday, Sept. 26.

The town has traditionally set the town meeting quorum at 150 registered voters, but given the pandemic and provisions in state statutes extending to municipalities the right to make adjustments to quorums, selectmen Monday night voted unanimously to change the quorum to 100 voters.

The reduction in the quorum number was called a “safety net,” given concerns that if a quorum is not present, the annual budget and other funding would not be available and the town could not conduct essential business.

Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers said people have reached out to him about getting enough voters to the legislative session to conduct the town meeting and have it start at a reasonable time. He suggested the quorum be no lower than 100 registered voters.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine said there have been no problems with outdoor town meetings held in other Cape communities. Most have drawn numbers well over the quorum. The Chatham Annual Town Meeting in June drew 202 people; the quorum is 100.

“I would support allowing us to reduce the quorum,” Selectman Stephen Ford said. “I would not want 125 or 135 people there and not be able to conduct town meeting. I’ve heard a few comments that we are going to try to conduct town business with just 15 people; we’re not.”

The selectmen’s public hearing notice said that the board would discuss lowering the quorum to “no less than 10 percent of the quorum requirement of 150, or 15 registered voters.” Selectmen made it clear they were not looking for a major reduction.

Selectman Michael MacAskill said he has also heard comments about the quorum reduction, with people concerned that some important decisions would be made by a small number of voters. The proposed plastic bottle ban was one such decision, he said.

“I would not support anything less than 150,” MacAskill said.

“I wouldn’t go below 100,” said Selectman Donald Howell. “A Saturday may get a fairly robust turnout. In other towns a reduced quorum has juiced their attendance, actually increasing the turnout.”

Moderator Michael D. Ford previously notified selectmen by email that the issue of quorum is customarily decided by the voters, but he supports the effort the board was making to ensure the safety of those attending town meeting. He said he believes that 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,” Michael Ford wrote. “Accordingly, I would support a quorum reduction if the board so votes.”

Selectmen Ed McManus put forward a motion to reduce the quorum from 150 to 100 registered voters. Selectmen approved the motion 4-1, with MacAskill casting the dissenting vote.