PROVINCETOWN — On foot and by bike, scooter, and car, some 400 people made their way along Commercial Street to town hall on Monday evening, headed to what turned out to be just the first night of this year’s annual town meeting.
The event was held indoors for the first time since 2019. With the occasional masked resident and a Covid safety table filled with rapid tests and hand sanitizers at the entrance to the auditorium, the mood was social as residents hugged and waved from across the room.
Shira Kavon, a Provincetown resident for eight years, said this year’s meeting felt busier than in years past.
“I’m encouraged by how many people are here,” Kavon said. “I’m glad we can all gather tonight and deal with town issues.”
Pink slips in hand, registered voters congregated on the main floor and stood at the back after the chairs filled, while a dozen yellow-carded nonvoters were relegated to the balcony.
Town Moderator Mary-Jo Avellar began the meeting with a reference to the Ukrainian conflict and highlighted the importance of democracy in action.
“How fortunate we are to exercise our right to vote,” she said. “To be free.”
Behind Avellar, a large screen displayed a statement of Thomas Jefferson’s: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, or in philosophy as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
Avellar added her own advice. “Be civil to your fellow town members,” she said, “even if you hate everything they’re saying.”
During a 15-minute adjournment, Jeremy Flanigan said he’s come to Provincetown for the past 25 years and has always heard of the annual town meeting as an “infamous event.”
“Thus far,” he said, waiting in the refreshments line, “it’s been rather orderly and congenial.”
Flanigan was most interested in what he called “the sexiest articles,” those addressing police station funding and housing.
Residents did turn testy while debating several housing articles and Article 6 on the police station. “I probably shouldn’t do this,” said Avellar before mentioning her support for the police station article.
The mood remained upbeat, however, and speakers got laughs when they clarified whether their visits to the current police station cells had been voluntary or involuntary.
Qya Crystal probably got the biggest laugh of the night during the Article 6 discussion when she introduced herself as Michelle Obama.
The crowd cheered when the station funding passed. Fewer than 10 voters dissented.
There were at least two babies in attendance. During the adjournment, an Independent reporter tried speaking with one, but he had no comment.
Speaking for eight-month-old Atkins Mayo, his mother, Chelsea Crowe, said sharing democracy with her baby was important. She added that her son is interested in conservation, but that a pacifier will usually suffice to keep him from loudly expressing his opinion.
As the night wore on, a few other residents might have needed pacification, too.
During an especially long comment about income restrictions for affordable rental housing, a woman in the front of the crowd shouted, “Get on the internet and look it up!”
“The more you have demonstrations, the longer we’re going to be here,” Avellar said as the clock passed 9 p.m.
Three hours in, the three-minute comment timer seemed to have broken.
An attempt to amend Article 16 — a home rule petition about allocating rooms tax revenues — set off a battle between amendment proponents and the moderator. Avellar, having ultimate authority, was the winner.
“You can appeal the ruling until the end of the world,” Avellar said before calling on Town Counsel John Giorgio to explain the amendment procedure to the audience for the fifth time.
Thirty minutes of discourse preceded an almost unanimous vote on Article 17, a zoning bylaw amendment to increase the in-lieu fee on developers who do not include affordable units in new construction.
Kavon said she did not mind the detailed explanation: “That’s why people are here.”
“But I was here first!” cried one resident at the microphone when Avellar recognized another speaker.
“Oh, and the entertainment value,” Kavon added.
Audible groans filled the room when yet another amendment was proposed, this time on Article 18 at 10 p.m.
“You chose to stay here,” Avellar said. “We need to get this done.”
Soon thereafter, residents chose to return Tuesday night to finish up the town’s business.