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Town Meetings during the pandemic: an old tradition remade with new venues

Hanover will hold its Town Meeting inside at the Starland Sportsplex & Fun Park.Starland Sportsplex & Fun Park

The Avon Town Meeting is reserved seating only this June. Cohasset held its meeting “drive-in movie style” at the South Shore Music Circus. And Hanover residents will be convening at the private indoor sports complex at Starland.

Milton held its representative Town Meeting virtually on Zoom. Hull, Hingham, and other communities opted to meet outside – and far apart - on high school football fields.

Welcome to the new version of the mainstay of Massachusetts local government: Town Meeting in the time of COVID-19.

“Pandemics like this are the mother of invention,” said Avon Town Administrator Gregory Enos. “Hopefully, it’s a one-time thing.”


Enos said Avon officials decided to keep their meeting – scheduled for June 29 – inside at the Avon Middle High School, where there is room in the auditorium for 70 seats placed 6 feet apart and additional rooms available for more people to be present and socially distant.

Officials asked residents to reserve seats ahead of time, so there would be time to set up the space appropriately, Enos said. Town Meeting typically draws between 50 and 100 people, he said.

As in many other communities, Avon’s Town Meeting will take on an abbreviated number of essential items, such as the budget and required environmental work – and postpone everything else till the fall.

“We stripped the warrant down pretty well,” Enos said. “We want to keep this meeting as short as possible to alleviate any health concerns. We want to get people in and out.”

Marshfield Town Moderator Don Gibson echoed the sentiment before the June 22 Town Meeting in what he promised would be a thoroughly disinfected high school auditorium.

“The scientific and medical evidence is clear that the longer one is exposed to the virus, the greater the risk of contracting it,” Gibson said in a public letter explaining the precautions the town was taking and need to condense the warrant and keep comments concise.


“In other words, the longer we are all together, the more we are at risk,” he said.

Hanover Town Manager Joseph Colangelo said he anticipated a large turnout for the June 29 Town Meeting, primarily because of concern over projected revenue shortfalls and the layoff notices sent to about 50 teachers and school staff. So he was glad to make arrangements for Town Meeting to take place indoors at Starland, where there’s room for nearly 1,000 masked people to gather with proper social distancing, and with air conditioning and a good audiovisual system.

Starland opened on Route 53 as a family amusement park and was expanded and reconfigured in 2013 with the addition of a 100,000square foot indoor sports complex.

“It really is the safest and most democratic alternative available,” Colangelo said. “The nice thing about this is rain or shine we’ll be able to do it. There are a lot of important decisions to make. And it will be cool to do it at Starland.”

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.