On the surface, our Annual Town Meeting will look different. None of us ever imagined a Town Meeting with physical distancing, face coverings, and outside on a football field on a Saturday! Bedford is not alone.
Every town in Massachusetts with Open Town meeting is doing similar planning; many have completed their meetings. We have the advantage of reading about those successes (and issues) so that we can fine-tune our experience.
What I can tell you, is that the basic underlying principles of democratic process are being upheld. Voters have attended–in larger numbers than expected. Everyone has been heard. Votes were taken. Our form of self-governance is alive and well.
We will have our turn on July 11 at 9 AM.
There is an extensive planning team working on all the details to keep voters as safe as possible. The team includes the Town Manager, Town Moderator, Town Clerk, Directors of Health and Human Services, Facilities, Public Works, the Police Chief, and the Fire Chief, along with staff support from all these departments. The goal is to protect the voters and Town employees during the Covid-19 pandemic, and to assure the legitimacy of our Town Meeting.
Please refer to the website at https://www.bedfordma.gov/town-meeting for up-to-date information, warrants, presentations, and background materials.
The meeting will be held on July 11, 2020, at Sabourin Field at Bedford High School. The MA Department of Public Health has recommended that an outdoor meeting is much safer than gathering a large group of people in an enclosed space indoors. In order to ensure the safety of all residents, all attendees will be required to wear face coverings for the entirety of Town Meeting. A face covering will be provided by the Town, if you do not have one. Physically distanced chairs will be set up on the turf field, and Town staff will guide residents to their seats in order to ensure proper distancing. Staff will also assist residents with how to properly leave the field once Town Meeting has concluded. Hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and ADA-accessible restrooms will be available for all attendees.
Parking will be available in the Bedford High School or by Town Hall. Handicap parking spaces closest to Sabourin Field are located on the far-left side of Bedford High School near the cafeteria entrance. Additional parking is available at the John Glenn Middle School lots. After parking, walk down the path along the side of the field toward the High School.
The meeting is scheduled to start at 9 AM, but check-in for voters will begin at 8 AM. Voters are encouraged to arrive early in order for the meeting to start on time.
All voters and non-voting attendees will check-in at the tables located at the Field entrance nearest the High School. Physical distancing will be strictly observed. You will NOT need to check-in by precinct; a new system will allow voters to check-in at any table. Please state your name and address loudly and clearly to the poll worker. Face coverings will be required at all times. If you arrive without a face covering the Town will provide one for you.
Town staff will be available to direct you to seats. Seating will be in rows of single seats spaced a safe distance apart – alternating with rows of two seats for persons from the same household to sit together. All seating will be adjacent to a dedicated aisle, so there will be no crossing of paths to be seated. Signs will clearly mark the flow and staff will be available to help direct voters.
Materials, Sound and Microphone Usage
An outside meeting means there will be no big screens and no PowerPoint presentations during Town Meeting. All motions, warrants, supporting information, video presentations by Finance Committee and Select Board, and other presentations will be posted online at https://www.bedfordma.gov/town-meeting In early July. There are also FAQs, as well as copies of this information. All voters are encouraged to review the online materials in order to be prepared to vote. You can download the materials to your own tablet, computer, or phone. A printed copy of all motions will be available at Check-in.
There will be a professional sound system and microphones to ensure that everyone will be easily heard. Voters will not have to leave their seats to speak. Voters will raise their voting card to be recognized by the Moderator and a microphone will be brought to you. After each use, the microphone will be sanitized.
There will be no live broadcast of the meeting but the proceedings will be recorded and shown later on Bedford TV.
Every voter will receive a voting card when they check-in. It will be used to get the attention of the Moderator if you want to speak, and it will be used to vote. There will be no “voice votes” at this meeting. When a vote is taken on an article, all those in favor will raise their voting card. Then, those opposed will raise their voting cards. The result will be announced as “The motion passes (or fails).” If the Moderator is unsure of the result, the tellers will take a hand count.
Memorial Resolutions and the Bedford Minutemen
Memorial resolutions for Bedford residents who have died in the previous year since the last Annual Town Meeting are generally read at the beginning of the meeting. These are people who have served the Town as employees, committee members, or elected officials. We will observe a moment of silence for them but we will not be reading the list at this meeting. The list will be included in materials, given to the press for publication and of course, the families will receive a letter from the Town. The Select Board wants to be clear that this tradition will be reinstated at future Town Meetings and further, that this year’s list will be read at a future Town Meeting.
A few members of the Bedford Minuteman Company will be posting the colors before the meeting. Do come early so you can see them – they will post the colors at 9 AM.
The foundation of Town Meeting is the voters’ right to speak and the right to self-govern. That remains the guiding principle of this Town Meeting as well, just on softer ground and with more fresh air. I hope to see you on July 11. If you have comments or questions you can contact me at TownModerator@bedfordma.gov