Warrant Briefing Wednesday; Know What’s Coming At Town Meeting

Photo: The warrant briefing provides a heads up for Town Meeting members on articles and amendments.

Town Meeting members and the public are invited on Wednesday, June 10 at 7 p.m. to attend the 2020 ‘Zoom’ Warrant Briefing for next week’s annual Town Meeting.

The meeting is cosponsored by the town’s Warrant Committee and the Belmont League of Women Voters.

Residents and members will have the opportunity to ask questions of town officials and department heads about the articles and amendments prior to the annual legislative gathering on Tuesday, June 16.

Laurie Slap, chair of the Warrant Committee, will preside.

To join the Zoom Meeting, head to:


Meeting ID: 898 6923 4568

One tap mobile +19292056099, 89869234568# US (New York)

Meeting ID: 898 6923 4568

Town Administrator Nixes Own Pay Raise As Town Faces Big Budget Shortfall

Photo: Patrice Garvin, Belmont Town Administrator

In a move that took many by surprise, the Select Board approved Town Administrator Patrice Garvin’s request that she not be paid her expected annual salary increase.

The amendment to Garvin’s contract is “in response to the significant budgetary shortfalls as a result of the unanticipated COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the press release from the town.

Garvin’s gesture comes two-weeks before the Belmont Town Meeting where members will be presented the fiscal 2021 budget that reflects a 25 percent reduction in state aid. In addition, the town’s Financial Task Force’s initial projections of the fiscal ’22 budget has the town suffering a one-year structural deficit of between $10 to $13 million.

Garvin was expected to receive on July 1 a two percent increase over her base salary of $189,300 or the general pay hike for department heads, which ever was higher.

Garvin’s action won praise from the Board.

“I’d just like to note that this is what leadership looks like. In coming from the town administrator, it makes a very large statement,” said Select Board’s Adam Dash.

With a significant financial challenge waiting in fiscal 2022, Garvin “recognizes she can’t ask employees of the town to do anything that she isn’t willing to do herself,” said member Tom Caputo.

Full Steam Ahead: Town Clerk Moving Forward With Remote Town Meeting

Photo: Virtual Town Meeting

are running full steam ahead to run a remote-access annual Town Meeting on June 16 with only nine articles that must be taken up. 

In her last communication to Town Meeting Members, Town Clerk Ellen Cushman said Belmont and five other towns had put forth a request for Special Legislation to allow representative Town Meeting towns to hold virtual meetings. The legislation has passed the state Senate and has been with the House for more than a week.

“We all sincerely hope for an answer by early next week,” said Cushman.

The current plan, according to Cushman, which is still under development include:

  • We will use two applications at the same time – one for viewing or asking questions and the other exclusively for voting. We will use Zoom as our Video Conference Platform for the viewing and asking questions.We will use our customary TurningPoint electronic voting system for voting, but instead of distributing the “clickers” to everyone, we will be voting using our technology devices, desktop computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones.
  • During the week ahead, each Town Meeting Member will receive an email invitation to create a password for the TurningPoint system that will allow you to vote securely during Town Meeting.
  • Over the next few weeks, we will divide the Town Meeting into experience groups to run classes so everyone is ready for June 16. We will also be running a practice Town Meeting and/or League of Women Voters Warrant Briefing night so we’re all on board before the 16th. We ask you to make participating in these practice and training sessions a priority, making every effort to “attend.” We understand that there are experts among us but we also recognize that there are members for whom technology is a real challenge, their talents lie elsewhere.
  • Training materials and links to training videos will be distributed next week – we urge you to take the class, do the practice, run a fun Zoom session with your family or friends, practice opening two applications at the same time, minimizing applications.  If you don’t know what any of that is, not to worry.
  • Town Meeting materials are being developed and will be distributed approximately three weeks before Town Meeting.  The materials will include video presentations by the Chairs of our key committees, boards and commissions to assist Town Meeting Members to make informed choices. We’ll also be asking Town Meeting Members to send their questions in far in advance of the Town Meeting so that these folks can respond and share the information with all Members.  We do not anticipate reports will be given at Town Meeting, instead we ask Members to watch the videos.
  • The members of the public will be encouraged to watch, either by livestreaming or through our partner Belmont Media.
  • The Moderator has made the decision that the deadline for any amendments will be one week before Town Meeting, instead of the customary three days, to give plenty of time for evaluation and conversation.
  • We are committed that every Town Meeting Member will be able to fully participate and have their vote counted properly, whatever it takes.
  • If you are a person who is experienced and interested in helping to teach other Town Meeting Members about using Zoom or TurningPoint, please send me an email reply. It’s not yet clear whether we will need your assistance but it’s always good to know before the need arises.

Finally, over the last couple of weeks, Town Meeting Members have completed the online survey of technology types and comfort using technology as well as preferred learning styles. And 289 the 292 Town Meeting Members responded!

Here are the very general numbers:

Technology Town Meeting Members Own or Have Access to:

  • 276 have a smartphone
  • 241 have a laptop computer  (many also have other technology)
  • 33  have exclusively a desktop computer
  • 10  have exclusively a tablet

Experience / Comfort with Technology and Zoom Video Conferencing

  • 136 “Zoomers”  ( regularly participate in Zoom and VERY comfortable with technology)
  • 42 “Experts”( participating frequently in Zoom and very comfortable with technology) 
  • 60 “Intermediates” (participate infrequently in Zoom and comfortable with technology)
  • 24 “Beginners” (have watched Zoom but not participated, 13 are comfortable with technology, 11 are not)
  • 27 “Novices”  (have never watched Zoom, but all are comfortable with technology)

Town Election Pushed Back To June 23; A Virtual Town Meeting In The Cards

Photo: Wear your shorts, it’s summer time voting in Belmont

In response to the continued COVID-19 pandemic, the Belmont Select Board approved moving the annual Town Election from April 7 to Tuesday, June 23 at its March 26 meeting held via video conference.

In addition to a new day for voters to head for a summertime election, Town Meeting members could be debating the 2021 budget sitting in front of their computers rather than in the Chenery Middle School auditorium as plans are underway to possibly hold a virtual annual Town Meeting in May if the novel coronavirus continues to force social distancing.

Saying “it seemed imprudent to proceed with an election for April 7,” Select Board Chair Tom Caputo complimented the state legislature for passing a bill allowing city and towns to postpone local elections until June 30.

Town Clerk Ellen Cushman and Town Moderator Micheal Widmer, who led the effort to establish a new election date, believed that “for the people who work the elections and the voters in general, the longer we can push that off, the better,” said Cushman. They also had to consider a date in which Belmont public schools had shut down for the summer recess as three of the town’s eight polling stations – at the Winn Brook, Burbank and Butler elementary schools – are located in district buildings.

In the end, the pair came up with three dates; June 16, 23 and 25 with the 23rd receiving the highest favorable response from volunteers who work the elections.

Yet a June date would come after the completion of the annual Town Meeting, which begins on May 27. Traditionally, a new Town Meeting is held after a Town Election to allow new representatives to debate and cast ballots.

But as the Select Board’s Adam Dash noted, there is also no requirement in the new town election legislation compelling towns to hold elections before Town Meeting – as is usually the case.

Cushman said that whoever is actually elected to serve as a Town Meeting member and in town-wide office would be the ones who represent at Town Meeting.

“So it’s possible that you might have [a] group who would represent at the annual town meeting … before the election, and then a completely different group would be at a Special Town Meeting that deals with those zoning articles and other items that took place after the election,” said Cushman.

“I certainly don’t want to set a date … in May, and then it turns out we’re still quarantined and then we have to pump it a second time, which would not be ideal,” said Dash.

Board Member Roy Epstein – whose background image suggested he was speaking from along the pre-1940 Maginot line in France – asked Cushman if the town could hold the election via absentee ballot to lessen the anxiety of voters concerning contacting COVID-19 at polling stations.

Belmont Select Board’s Roy Epstein.

“I guess there’s some possibility that even in June, it wouldn’t be wise to have an election with live polling places,” he said.

Cushman noted that the state has recently altered its criteria for casting an absentee ballot to include voters who are avoiding a polling place as a precautionary measure in response to COVID-19. The state has also extended early voting to municipal elections for the remainder of 2020.

Yet there is one catch; under state law, the town must have at least one “live” polling station on election day to allow voting for anyone who didn’t vote early or with an absentee ballot.

“[I]f people do show up, then you might put them in jeopardy because suddenly you’d have a lot of people located in one location. So there are a lot of considerations,” said Cushman.

In addition to settling on a new election day, Cushman said Belmont and other towns are watching another piece of state legislation. They are hoping language will be added to allow towns to run “remote access Town Meetings” if necessitated by the continued presence of COVID-19 in late May.

Cushman said her office has been in discussions with Turning Technologies, the town’s electronic voting vendor, which indicated there needs to be coordination between its software and Zoom, the remote conferencing service, to make it work.

“But for Town Meeting members, the experience would be virtually seamless. Roll call votes would … be instantaneous, and it’s part of our existing license so it wouldn’t cost us anything,” said Cushman

“So I already have people taking training and webinars … so should [if enabling language] happens in the legislature, we will be pretty much ready to start turning on,” said Cushman.

Caputo said he had recently participated in a work meeting with 254 people, “and it actually worked remarkably well.”

And on the plus side of a Town Meeting via Zoom, suggested Dash, “if you go beyond the time limit [the Town Moderator] can just mute them.”

Town Election Delayed, Town Meeting Tentative Start On May 29 – Budgets Only


Town elections are “funny little animals,” said Ellen Cushman, Belmont Town Clerk addressing the Select Board last week.

While the ballot is specific to the municipality, they can’t be delayed, postponed or changed by local action. Altering the date, for instance, can only be done through a “higher power,” either going before a judge for a court ruling or via a special act of the legislature up on Beacon Hill.

Asking to tinker with a town’s election dates is a fairly rare request, but circumstances around the world had forced Belmont’s and other communities hands on the matter.

With the advancing coronavirus pandemic forcing the cancellation of gatherings of more than a handful of people, it became clear holding the election on the traditional first Tuesday in April was all but impossible.

It was for that reason the Select Board voted to approve – better known as “calling” – the annual Town Election for April 7 just so it could then start the process of postponing it.

After the Select Board’s unanimous vote, the town prepared plans on what avenue to pursue to change the election date; through the courts as Wellesley had recently done or via legislation. Turns out that neither was needed as just days after the Board’s vote, state legislators stepped in with a universal fix.

As pressure from municipalities requesting delays and postponements began to swamp Beacon Hill, the Massachusetts House and Senate on Monday, March 23, passed legislation, S.2608, allowing municipalities to postpone 2020 local elections while the Commonwealth is in a state of emergency.

Under the legislation, the Select Board will be able to postpone to a date on or before June 30.

“I’m informed that the House and Senate passed the bill this afternoon and it is anticipated that the Governor [Charlie Baker] will sign it,” Cushman said.

The next question is when will the election take place? Belmont will find out on Thursday, March 26 when the Select Board meets to make the postponement official and sets the new date.

The pandemic has also impacted the 161st annual Town Meeting as the Board along with Town Administrator Patrice Garvin and Town Moderator Mike Widmer decided to move the first day of the annual Town Meeting from late April to May 29, which was already scheduled to be the start of the meeting’s Segment B which focuses on financial articles.

And that meeting will be limited to budgets and fiscal matters, measures vital “to keep the lights on,” according to Garvin.

The non-budgetary articles which were to highlight the April meeting including important topics as imposing a fee for paper bags, restricting gas hookups in new buildings, a lease agreement for the new ice skating rink and zoning changes to facilitate residential development at the McLean property will be delayed to a date yet known.

Garvin said it would be likely those measures will be taken up during a special Town Meeting during the summer.