Select Board Set to Reduce Quorum for May's Town Meeting (Updated)
At Select Board’s meeting on April 3, 2023, the board agreed to discuss and possibly vote at its next meeting on reducing the required quorum for the upcoming Town Meeting from the 175 people required under Westwood’s bylaws, to a lower number – potentially 45 people.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Baker signed legislation declaring a state of emergency effective May 1, 2020, allowing towns to change certain procedures because of the public health emergency.
Under Governor Baker’s emergency provisions, a select board in consultation with the town moderator could prescribe a lower number to constitute a quorum, so long as it is at least 10 percent of the otherwise required quorum.
Governor Baker lifted his March 10, 2020 state of emergency declaration on June 15, 2021. However, Governor Baker and subsequently Governor Maura Healey, allowed some emergency procedures to continue, such as those related to remote town meetings.
According to Town Counsel Pat Ahern, the Select Board may again this year reduce the number constituting a quorum for Town Meeting. He noted that the quorum has been reduced in this manner for two of the last three years.
A discussion regarding the recent history and the advantages of lowering the number constituting a quorum ensued by Mr. Ahearn, Town Clerk Dottie Powers, and Town Administrator Christopher Coleman. Town Moderator Jim O’Sullivan concurred in the advisability of reducing the quorum.
Mr. Coleman noted that the reduced quorum can be stated as “lowering the floor” and “not capping the number of attendees.”
Ms. Powers explained, “We’ve had many occasions where we’ve not been able to get a quorum. And to have a meeting without a quorum - all the work that goes into it - would really be devastating to the community because there’s a lot of articles that need attention and it can be very frustrating. And in the time I’ve been here, it has happened a few times we’ve had to go out to the fields to have people come in,” she said.
Past Town Meetings have been held both indoors and outdoors at Westwood High School. The high school’s playing fields are often in use by community members throughout the day. Ms. Powers may have been referring to these "fields" as a nearby location to recruit additional residents to form a quorum, if needed.
Select Board Clerk Michael Walsh inquired how many people showed up for the last two Town Meetings when the quorum was reduced. Ms. Powers answered that for both meetings, the number of attendees surpassed the bylaw requirement of 175 people. Ms. Powers recalled that there were over 220 voters at the 2022 Town Meeting. There were over 200 voters at meeting prior to that, she said.
Mr. Walsh noted his “vote” to add a reduced quorum to the board’s next meeting agenda. He explained that as Town Meeting progresses, people leave the meeting. This reduced attendance sometimes prompts calls for ending the meeting due to lack of a quorum. Ending the meeting with unfinished business to resume another day could be undesirable.
“Most people won’t show up on Day Two,” observed Mr. Walsh.
Moderator O’Sullivan added that it would be “a shame” to have a meeting fall below the required number to constitute a quorum, with the result that the meeting must be cancelled.
Select Board Chair Robert Gotti, Clerk Michael Walsh and Member Marianne LeBlanc Cummings all voiced their support to add to the board’s April 26th meeting agenda the topic of reducing the required quorum number.
Based on the aforementioned discussion, a unanimous vote on April 26th in favor of the quorum reduction seems likely. In that case, a smaller group of residents – about 25 percent of the otherwise required 175 residents had been suggested - would be able to make decisions on behalf of the town, in order for town business to go forward when larger numbers of people do not show up.
In related news, the Select Board also unanimously agreed to sign and finalize the Town Warrant and post it throughout town.
Updated 4/5/2023 at 10:10 a.m. A reference to Westwood's quorum bylaw mistakenly gave the number of people required for a quorum as 147, but the bylaw states the number is 175. A correction has been made.
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