June 18, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
With social distancing in place and high temperatures predicted for Saturday's Town Meeting, the Selectmen agreed Thursday night to reduce the usual quorum from 300 to 200, with hopes that at least that number of voters will arrive promptly to allow the June 20 outdoor meeting to begin on time -- 2 p.m. on the Hingham High School multi-purpose field.
"The challenge in this environment is to find a way to efficiently and safely gather folks, and to think about how many 'should' come together to conduct the important business of Town Meeting," Selectmen Chair Karen Johnson said during the teleconference meeting.
While state COVID-19 regulations allow communities to reduce the usual open town meeting quorums set by towns and cities to no fewer than 10 percent of the total -- in Hingham's case, 30 -- all three selectmen as well as Town Moderator Michael Puzo agreed that reducing the quorum to 200 made sense and was consistent with Hingham's 200 quorum for the second and subsequent nights of a Town Meeting.
The benefit of an open Town Meeting rather than a representative Town Meeting, Johnson said, is that "the voice of every voter can be heard."
While virtual '"gatherings" are permitted with representative Town Meetings because specific individuals representing voters can be accounted for, Johnson explained that that's not the case with open Town Meetings because there's no way to ensure that everyone present when there is a large number of participants is a registered voter in that individual town.
"I think this is a prudent decision," said Selectman Joseph Fisher, "but I hope at least 300 show up!"
Johnson, who said she has never advocated for lowering the quorum before, called the decision "a big step -- not something that we take lightly -- but these are extraordinary circumstances."
That said, she's hoping as many voters who are able to do so attend, bringing water bottles, umbrellas, and hats.
The town will provide a water cooling station as well as a temporary cooling-off tent and some seating under a tent. "We have gone to great lengths to ensure this meeting will be as safe and as efficiently-run as possible," Johnson said.
She called Town Meeting "a unique New England governance opportunity. You have a vote and a voice by just living in town," [as long as you are a registered voter].
For further details check out our Town Meeting preview at https://hinghamanchor.com/town-meeting-is-just-around-the-corner-no-heels-please/