Town Meeting 2021 Primer — What to expect at your first Town Meeting

2020 Town Meeting, Photo by Joshua Ross Photography

April 30, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer

If you've never attended a Town Meeting here in Hingham, then this is the year to make it happen! Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 8, at 2 p.m. Every vote on every warrant article counts!

Longtime former Town Moderator Tom O'Donnell referred to Town Meeting as "a journey through the warrant articles."

Not only is this meeting an opportunity to vote on issues that are important to you, it's also a chance to learn something about town government and the role each of us plays in it.

And while you're waiting, we suggest you also consider filling out the talent bank application on page 86 of the warrant as a possible volunteer on a town committee or board to extend your participation in our town government beyond taking part in Town Meeting this year.

Be sure to bring your warrant containing the agenda. A copy was mailed recently to every Hingham household.

Enjoy your first Town Meeting!

Here's our guide for first-time Town Meeting participants:

What is Town Meeting: Our town government’s legislative body that appropriates monies to be expended by the town, adopts laws such as zoning and general bylaws, and sets public policy.

Who leads the meeting: Town Moderator Michael Puzo

Location: On the multi-purpose field at Hingham High School, 17 Union St.

Date: Saturday, May 8, with a rain date of May 15 or 16 as needed.

Time: The meeting will start promptly at 2 p.m.

COVID-19 guidelines: Social distancing and face mask requirements will be in place, and hand-sanitizing and water stations will be available as well as the restrooms in the field house and port-potties. Microphones used by speakers will be cleaned in-between each one and the windscreens replaced each time. The chairs will be set up on the playing field six feet apart, with overflow seating in the bleachers, with social distancing in place.

Where to enter: There will be three entrances near each of the parking lots -- behind and in front of the high school and the far parking area off Union Street.

Special accommodations: The Commission on Disabilities is working with the Selectmen's office to increase the number of parking spaces for handicapped individuals, add signage for parking and access, ensure mobility-friendly seating for all participants, provide listening devices and assistance on the field as needed, and ahead of time, to provide large-font Town Meeting warrants from the Selectmen's office upon request. To discuss and reserve an accommodation for that day, email [email protected]gov or call (781) 741-1451.

Who can attend and vote: Registered Hingham voters. If you did not register by the April 16, 2021 deadline, you can call the Selectmen's office, (781) 741-1400 and ask to be placed on the guest list. That done, you can attend but not vote. However, guests -- including those from out-of-town -- may be granted permission to address the meeting by majority vote.

Number of registered voters: as of April 28, 2021 -- 18,825

How to check in: There will be a contact-less process, with social distancing in place, and a list of registered voters by precinct.

Required quorum: The Selectmen recently voted in favor of reducing the usual 300 quorum to convene a Town Meeting to 200 due to COVID-19 considerations, which is allowed under state law. The meeting will not be called to order until a quorum is reached.

Can children attend with their parents: Town Meeting is a legislative body, and participation is limited to registered voters of the town. While non-voters can be admitted by the town moderator as "guests of the meeting,” they are seated apart from voters in a designated area. "Again this year, we will be carefully observing all public health and safety protocols and cannot admit children to the meeting, nor are we able to offer childcare," Puzo told the Hingham Anchor.

Number of articles: 28.

Details of the Fiscal Year 2022 town budget: $133.7 million, including $62.8 million for the schools. (See pages 24-30 of the warrant for full details.) Voters have the final say.

Articles that are expected to draw the most attention relate to: the school budget (p. 27); two related to funding for a climate action plan and establishing a climate action planning committee (pp. 32-34); funding for preparation of design documents and the hiring of an owner's project manager related to the proposed public safety facility building on Lincoln Street (p. 39); additional funding for Rte. 3A/Hingham Rotary/Summer Street corridor improvements (p. 40); funding for the repair/reconstruction of the Town Pier Wharf (p. 41); several Community Preservation Committee-recommended projects (p. 34); authorizing a borrowing for the Plymouth River School window project (p. 47); and three citizens petitions: 1) to amend the town's general by-laws to include gender-neutral terms (p. 42); 2) to amend the town's zoning by-law to allow accessory dwelling units in detached structures on the same lot as the principal dwelling (p. 56); and 3) to establish the requirement for a standing resolution to recognize by a roll call the names of employees, appointed volunteers, and elected officials who passed on since the prior-year annual Town Meeting as an expression of appreciation for their efforts and contributions to the town (p. 46). Voters have the final say on all warrant articles.

Speaking rules: You must be a registered voter. If you wish to speak, rise and seek the attention of the moderator. Time limits: Six minutes the first time on a given question and three minutes the second time on the same question. No one may speak more than twice on any question except under certain circumstances outlined by the Town Moderator.

Voting procedures: All votes are taken first as voice votes and called by the moderator. If the moderator is in doubt or seven voters rise to question the moderator’s call, then a standing vote is taken, unless either the Advisory Committee or 50 voters promptly call for a paper ballot vote, in which case a ballot vote, and not a standing vote, will be taken.

There have been paper ballot votes at several Annual and Special Town Meetings over the past 10 years, including:

  • 2009: Special: Naming East School
  • 2010: Zoning Recreation Field Overlay District (Ward Street fields)
  • 2011:  Special: Vote on new Middle School project
  • 2013: High School turf field project
  • 2019: water company acquisition

How many votes are required to pass an article: Most articles require a majority vote to pass, while ones involving a borrowing require a two-thirds vote, as is the case with last year's water company acquisition article.

Can I leave the meeting after the article(s) I am interested in are addressed: Yes, but participation in the entire meeting is encouraged to ensure a continuing quorum and full voter participation in the discussion and vote on important issues that affect our lives.

How long does Town Meeting usually last: The amount of time varies, but due to COVID-19, the business will be conducted as expeditiously as possible while still giving citizens time to speak on various warrant articles if they wish to do so.

How is it decided when the meeting will end: During normal Town Meetings, if the Town Moderator thinks business can wrap up in one night, the meeting could run later than usual to avoid calling a second session. Otherwise, there's a motion to adjourn the meeting to the next day and for a third session, the following Monday. However, this year business is expected to wrap up in one session.

Parking: Available is available in the school and remote parking lots. There will be no shuttle service to and from the high school from South Shore Baptist Church this year due to COVID-19 considerations.

How to prepare for Town Meeting: Carefully review the Town Meeting procedures on pages 3 and 4 of the warrant (including information pertaining to reconsideration of a vote -- page 4) and the warrant article details and the Advisory Committee's recommendations for each in order to be an informed voter. Town Meeting has the final say on every article.

Be sure to bring an umbrella for protection if the day of Town Meeting is sunny or if it rains, a blanket if it's chilly, and sunscreen and a hat if needed. No heels are allowed on the turf field!

Further info: Visit https://www.hingham-ma.gov/241/Town-Meeting for more details about Town Meeting and https://my.lwv.org/sites/default/files/leagues/wysiwyg/%5Bcurrent-user%3Aog-user-node%3A1%3Atitle%5D/citizens_guide_to_hingham_open_town_meeting_-_lwv_vol._4.pdf to view the Hingham League of Women Voters' Citizen's Guide to Hingham Open Town Meeting.

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