By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — As a result of action taken by the Select Board August 16, this year’s October Town Meeting has been officially moved to the first Monday in October, which this year falls on October 4.
Originally, the board had voted to hold the meeting on the first Saturday of the month, October 2, in the morning, to enable it to be held outdoors on the Arthur J. Kenney turf field to allow maximum social distancing. However, with the number of residents getting their COVID-19 vaccinations increasing, the relaxing of the mask-wearing standards over the summer, and the gradual return of more in-person activities in both municipal and private settings and full in-person schooling, the board felt it would be appropriate to consider moving it back to a traditional Monday evening meeting and to hold it indoors.
Options available to the board and Town Moderator John Murphy in selecting an alternative location for October Town Meeting would be either the high school gymnasium or the Performing Arts Center.
Under the town’s bylaws, the date of the first session of each annual Town Meeting to be held in June and each fall Town Meeting to be held in October must be voted by the Select Board by March of each year. Given that requirement, the board could not have anticipated where the town would be with respect to its positive case count and vaccination rates eight months into the future so the members erred on the side of caution and established the outdoor venue.
Since COVID began 18 months ago there have been four Town Meetings held with social distancing requirements in place. The first was held indoors in the gymnasium in June of 2020. Subsequently, the town held three outdoor Town Meetings on the turf field, in August 2020, October 2020 and June 2021. The first three were held with full mask mandates in place. That requirement was optional at the June 2021 Town Meeting, as it was prior to the arrival of the Delta variant to Massachusetts and Gov. Baker had just fully opened up the state in time for the Memorial Day weekend.
Given the changing protocols at the state education level regarding mask-wearing in schools this week Town Meeting voters and attendees should anticipate the need to wear their masks or at least bring them to the October meeting. Social distancing protocols would be maintained in either venue. The town also always provides an area where those who cannot wear masks can sit and still participate in the meeting.
Coinciding with the Select Board’s vote to change the venue of the meeting, Aug. 16 also marked the deadline for any citizens’ petitions to be submitted for consideration at October Town Meeting.