This week, the Board of Health discussed plans to make the special city meeting on November 1 a safe environment for attendees. The main question they had was whether they could legally force voters to wear masks?
While I cover this, I will also provide an overview of what the voters in attendance will expect to decide.
Masks and Safety Precautions
Town attorney Jay Talerman felt fairly, but not completely, convinced that this was admissible. The lawyer noted that the right to vote in the municipal assembly is not considered sacrosanct like the right to vote in elections. But, he couldn’t tell how that shake in the event of a legal dispute.
Board members expressed concern that many of TM’s loyal voters are part of a vulnerable population. Many are vaccinated against Covid, but member Nancy Sacco noted that in the intensive care unit where she works, she has seen many groundbreaking cases. (She noted that the ICU was fuller this summer than the previous one.)
The board voted to impose a mask requirement for all meeting attendees. However, they also supported the safeguard Talerman suggested for voters who refuse to hide. They will be sent to a separate room.
City Clerk Jim Hegarty has confirmed he can set up a third room with audiovisual access to presentations. Voters in the room can be seen by the moderator and have the opportunity to move motions or ask questions (with the help of a “fairness moderator” in the room.)
It is a system that is already planned for times when the main room is in overcapacity. In fact, many voters who wear masks could face a similar situation this fall.
Due to the 6-foot board spacing requirement for attendees, Hegarty was already planning an overflow room. The main hall will be in Trottier’s gymnasium with additional seating in the auditorium. (An unidentified third room will now also be used if necessary for anti-mask voters.)
Hegarty asked how he should deal with attendees who report being exposed to Covid. (He gave examples of situations he experienced in last year’s election. He pointed out that common sense and what is legally binding are not always the same.)
The preference of the board and public health staff is that anyone who has been exposed or is showing symptoms remains at home. For those who do come anyway, public health nurse Taylor West has suggested that she could perform rapid antigen testing. (Results come back in less than 15 minutes.)
Member Safdar Medina said even if the test was negative, anyone with mild symptoms should still be required to wear a mask. All agreed with this and that those who tested positive or had severe symptoms would be sent home.
Talerman was convinced that these decisions were legally binding. He compared the rights of voters to the rights of children to attend a public school. (Students are sent home when they are sick.) West noted that even without Covid, anyone with a fever is still told to stay home.
Hegarty described to Council the ventilation improvements in the main hall. Fans will be installed at the doors of the gymnasium. He ensured that the air flow will be increased without pushing the air through anyone.
Last week, elected officials closed the mandate, but did not officially sign it. This means that nothing completely new can be added to the list, but items can still be revised or deleted. The final mandate should be signed by selectmen on Tuesday.
Once it is closed, article sponsors will still have the option of proposing amendments (within certain limits) or asking voters to postpone them indefinitely.
Below is the current list that selectmen will be reviewing on October 5th.
1. Modify the staff rules
Inclusion of an IT specialist position for which voters have already approved the budget at the annual municipal meeting
2. Modify the city code – Select the table
Simply change the name of Selectman’s board of directors to selected board of directors
3. Modify the budget for fiscal year 2022
- Reduction of MWRA Water funds by $ 150,000
- Increase the Board of Health budget by $ 99,682 for public health personnel. (This was not intentionally included at ATM in order to take advantage of federal funding to cover the “extra costs” associated with Covid.)
4. Modify the budget for fiscal year 2022 – Capital expenditure
- $ 30,000 to replenish the City’s fund for engineering / capital feasibility studies (Used for exploration / preliminary design in developing a comprehensive plan related to the construction needs of all city departments. Any proposed expenditure must first be approved by the board of directors.)
- $ 85,000 for computer server replacements
5. Traffic study for HVC routes
$ 25,000 for a study to determine the best routes for heavy trucks to take across the city. (This is in order to then request the correct exclusions. You can read more here.)
6. Modify the city code – Advisory membership
Modify the load to reduce the number of members to seven and add a vice president. (The language does not include a section that was controversial this spring, related to allowing more overlap with the capital planning committee.)
7. Modify the city code – Notice of municipal meetings
Specifies that the mandate must be posted 14 days before a special municipal meeting
8. Change city code – City meeting location
Allows officials to organize town hall meetings in a “town abutting Southborough”. It is proposed by the clerk in case of need for an emergency situation.
9. Modify the city code – Availability of the annual report
Correct contradictory language in the city code regarding the provision of the annual report to the public
10. Modify the city code – Zoning – Downtown district
This is the downtown zoning reform initiative. (You can read more about it here.)
You can view the draft terms of reference on pages 100-117 of the Tuesday evening BOS meeting agenda.