Thinking Ahead ~ Caucus and Annual Town Meeting, 2021

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No one knows how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect life in Bedford 20 weeks from now.

But just in case social-distancing and other considerations are still warranted, Town Manager Sarah Stanton said during the November 9 Select Board meeting that the town Covid-19 Task Force is recommending that annual town meeting be delayed from Monday, March 22 to Saturday, May 15.

She said the board didn’t have to act immediately on voting the delay, but perhaps it could be considered on their November 23 agenda, so other boards and committees could plan their timetables.

Town meeting would begin at 9 am on Sabourin Field, which would allow for social-distancing and disinfecting protocols. The rain date would be May 16.

There is a template for this. The 2020 annual meeting was postponed over three months, finally unfolding on the synthetic turf field on Saturday morning, July 11. Stanton said the reaction from attendees was “overwhelmingly positive.”

Although town meeting itself would be delayed by almost seven weeks, the proposed operating budget, capital budget, and warrant closure would remain on the March schedule, Stanton said. The posting of the warrant would be delayed until April. The interim could give town officials a chance to process updated state aid information.

Proposed general bylaw revisions that were deleted from the slimmed-down 2020 Town Meeting will return to the 2021 Town Meeting, she said. The Planning Board also tentatively expects to have three articles on the warrant.

Select Board member Margot Fleischman questioned whether the town should expect a second day of Town Meeting, which is usually the case when the sessions are held in the evening. Stanton said she did not think this would be necessary, although the ultimate decision rests with town meeting itself.

Stanton also told the Select Board that the Legislature has not yet approved waiving caucus requirements that affect Bedford and 13 other towns. State Rep. Kenneth Gordon has indicated that he will file legislation to continue the waiver approved for this year, when Bedford’s first-in-the-state January caucus took place before the virus.

Bedford’s charter mandates the caucus, so Stanton said – semi-seriously — that if the Legislature does not approve this extension, the town caucus could be held outdoors on January 5, 2021. She said Gordon is optimistic that the bill will be passed.

Although office-seekers will have to use the option of nominating petitions, the manager said, there may be an invitation to present virtual nomination and acceptance speeches to create a “spirit of the caucus.”

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