WELLFLEET — Plans for the 2020 annual town meeting are at last set.
Almost five months after the meeting was originally to have taken place, it will be convened at the Wellfleet Elementary School ball field on Saturday, Sept. 12 at 10 a.m.
The select board initially postponed the annual meeting to Oct. 5 because of the coronavirus outbreak. At the time, many people were predicting that the pandemic would be brought under control by the fall.
The select board moved the date forward to September following a 4-1 vote in favor of the new plan at its July 14 meeting.
Town meeting will look very different than in years past and will employ a number of safety adjustments agreed upon by the town meeting task force, which Moderator Dan Silverman assembled in late June.
The task force included Fire Chief Rich Pauley, Police Chief Mike Hurley, DPW Director Mark Vincent, Community Services Director Suzanne Grout Thomas, Executive Assistant Courtney Butler, Media Operations Director Mia Baumgarten, Health Agent Hillary Greenberg-Lemos, Town Clerk Jennifer Congel, current Town Administrator Dan Hoort, and incoming Town Administrator Maria Broadbent.
“In the first meeting, we asked, ‘How are we going to make this happen?’ and we did,” Silverman said.
To make it happen, Silverman’s team quickly decided that an outdoor meeting was the only option, as virus transmission is far less likely outside than inside. Therefore, they moved up the date to September for a better chance of good weather.
They then decided to place chairs in pairs, with each pair six feet apart from the next pair, across the entire ball field, as most people come to the meeting in couples, Silverman said.
North Andover Town Moderator Mark DiSalvo designed a “town meeting calculator,” which Silverman used to calculate how much space the town needs to safely accommodate 350 people in pairs at six feet apart in every direction.
Based on that calculation, the task force decided that the ball field was the ideal place.
Masks will be required for everyone attending, but there will be a separate section of the field cordoned off for those who are unable to wear masks for medical reasons. Silverman admitted that the town can’t do much other than take people’s word on whether they are medically able to wear a mask.
There will also be a tent set up for elderly participants in case the weather is hot that day.
The voting process will also look different, as there will be no voice votes due to the likelihood of spreading the virus through respiratory droplets.
Each local citizen participating in the meeting will be given a large, brightly colored sheet of paper, which they will hold up to signal a vote.
As in voice voting, the moderator will first look for an obvious consensus by eyeballing the colored-sheet votes, and will then turn to a manual tally when needed.
The town will also rent an outdoor sound system from Audio Associates, the company that supplied Orleans with reportedly crystal-clear audio for its outdoor town meeting on June 20, according to Baumgarten.
Other members of Silverman’s task force were Assistant DPW Director Jay Norton, Police Lt. Kevin LaRocco, Capt. Joe Capello of the fire dept., and Assistant Town Administrator Mike Trovato.
The select board responded to Silverman’s plan positively, for the most part, with only a few concerns.
The most significant objection came from Justina Carlson, who was the only member of the board to vote against the plan.
“I wouldn’t go to a party with 100 people in a field,” Carlson said, “so I’m not sure I’m going to be able to attend.”
Fire Chief Pauley replied, “While I understand and am empathetic to the concerns, with all due respect to the board, we have got to get the business of the town done.”
Silverman, a former Wellfleet fire chief himself, also reassured the board that the precautions his task force came up with will make the meeting as safe as possible.
Board member Helen Miranda Wilson brought up her concern about bug spray at the gathering.
“As we know, in September, we can have a lot of mosquitoes,” she said. “Given the health concerns, [I ask we] prohibit the use of aerosol insecticide anywhere near the field, because I would not show up for that.”
Silverman said he had not thought about the bug spray issue and would consider adding such a restriction to the plan.
The moderator is still waiting on a select board vote to reduce the town meeting quorum to 100 people.
The state adopted special legislation in the spring because of the pandemic that allows town boards to vote on lowering the quorum.
Silverman hopes the select board will vote on the issue at its next meeting on July 28.
Lowering the quorum is prudent, he said, even though he expects a large turnout.
“I would not be surprised if we get 200-something people,” he said. “We planned for 350.”
He added that many Massachusetts towns have seen record-high attendance for town meetings this year, as folks are eager to get out of the house.
Editor’s note: This article was updated with additional information on July 27.