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Town Moderator Greg Christiana has provided an update to his Feb. 1 announcement that this spring's annual meeting is expected to be held in person only.

In a Feb. 14 note to Town Meeting members that was also posted in a town email, he responded to questions from Town Meeting members asking why he is not exploring a hybrid option. 

Jordan Weinstein, Precinct 21 Town Meeting member, has some questions >>

He wrote: "First, the Remote Participation Study Committee has been running a pilot program with small- and medium-size committee meetings. We'll hear more about their work when they submit their final report to Town Meeting this year. Town Meeting was not covered in their pilot program due to both the large scale of the meeting and the understanding that current law does not allow a hybrid option for Town Meeting."

Emergency state order cited

After consulting with Town Counsel Doug Heim, Christiana wrote that the emergency state order allowing for representative Town Meetings to convene remotely (Acts of 2020 Chapter 92) does not contemplate hybrid formats. The emergency order is set to expire in March, and the future of remote participation at a representative Town Meeting is unclear beyond that point, he wrote.

"Lastly, I want to highlight an important distinction between an in-person meeting and a hybrid meeting. In my interpretation, an in-person meeting takes place at a venue provided by the town, with a seating area, or areas, served in a coordinated manner by a combination of town staff, town officials, volunteers and vendors.

"For this type of meeting, the town is responsible for ensuring an adequate and equitable experience for participants across all seating areas. On the other hand, a hybrid meeting involves a combination of in-person participation at a town-managed venue and participants connecting from home or other locations through internet connections and devices that are not managed by the town.

"While I see a lot of potential for hybrid participation in the future, it is simply not a viable option for Town Meeting at this time -- and does not appear to be permitted under current law."

Town Meeting last met in person at Town Hall in spring 2019. It met in person outdoors in June 2020.

Plans for in-person Town Meeting

Planning is proceeding on multiple fronts, including:

  • assessing options for town-provided spaces;
  • exploring novel uses of AV technologies within town facilities; and
  • evaluating additional functionality of electronic handsets beyond voting.

Three main venues have been the focus of consideration: Town Hall and two locations at Arlington High School, specifically the Red Gym and the newly constructed auditorium.

Christiana wrote: "The Red Gym is a highly utilized space for sporting events that would conflict with meeting times. The high school auditorium has greater availability, and it benefits from modern construction in terms of air flow and filtration, but there are challenges with using the space for Town Meeting.

"First, the central seating section has fixed rows of seats that span more than 20 seats across. This works well for an audience that passively watches a show or presentation, but [it] is awkward for a deliberative body such as Town Meeting.

"Such seating makes it difficult for participants to get to a microphone, and a floating microphone would need to pass through several hands to reach the center of a row, which is not ideal when trying to limit the spread of germs. Also, the high school auditorium is a shared space and would require significant setup of equipment each night, including displays, tables and electronic-voting equipment, with uncertainty about the state in which we might find the space when we enter it each evening. At the end of each session, all equipment specific to Town Meeting would need to be taken down, transported and stored.

"Town Hall has its own challenges given its older construction in terms of air flow and filtration.

"However, Town Hall offers natural ventilation via several large double-hung windows, weather permitting. Also, Town Hall auditorium can be reserved for exclusive use by Town Meeting, allowing us to optimize the setup and outfit the space with fans and air filtration units without conflict or interference from other activities.

"Exclusive use of the space also ensures that it will not be filled ahead of time with particulates exhaled through activities such as choral performances or athletic events. The Town Hall auditorium also has nearby satellite spaces in the Town Hall complex that are wired for bidirectional audio and video, which are being explored for connecting the meeting across seating areas.

"For all these reasons, Town Hall is the most flexible option and the best suited for the deliberative nature of the meeting, and therefore the most viable venue.

"Planning is also underway with Option Technologies (OTI) to evaluate the use of electronic handsets for more than just voting. Prior to the Covid pandemic, these handsets were introduced at our Town Meeting and have greatly improved the speed, accuracy and transparency of voting. Additional capabilities of the handsets, such as requesting to speak or make motions, will be discussed at the upcoming meeting of the Town Meeting Procedures Committee."

To attend, register for this meeting >>

Town Meeting survey results

Christiana thanked the 165 Town Meeting members who responded to the Town Meeting survey since it went live Jan. 22. He called the results "immensely valuable as I set priorities going forward. The survey questions focused primarily on members' experiences at the 2022 annual meeting, but some questions covered ongoing and future topics, such as the format of Town Meeting. View the aggregated survey results here >>

Survey results will be reviewed by the Town Meeting Procedures Committee, which is scheduled tol meet Friday, February 17, 10 a.m. to consider changes to policies and procedures. 

Feb. 1, 2023: Moderator weighs Covid concerns, plans to hold spring meeting in person


This news announcement was published Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, updated Feb. 6, 2023, to add a link to an email from a Town Meeting member and updated Feb. 14,  2023, to describe the current exploration of how best to hold Town Meeting in person and indoors.