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Insiders Guide to Town Meeting

The 2020 Spring Town Meeting, to be held June 20 at 10 a.m., is fast approaching, and both veteran attendees and first-timers will be navigating new waters this year. With state rules for municipal proceedings and general social etiquette as guidance, the meeting will look different than in the past. Don’t be daunted, though. There are plenty of resources available to help you prepare.

One thing that won’t be different this year is the meeting’s purpose. This is your chance to participate in your local government and to have your voice heard on issues including paying for the budget deficit (see story), upgrading school facilities, replacing the old library’s roof, building an addition to Hildreth House, and much more. This guide highlights the most important aspects of this year’s meeting. It will tell you what to expect, and help you prepare to be an active participant and voter.

If you know you will attend and want to help out, the town is looking for 10 volunteers to count votes when the moderator or an attendee calls for a count of hands. To sign up, email Marlene Kenney at You will receive a quick training session and get to say you were part of a historic occasion—the first ever outdoor Harvard Town Meeting.


(Map by Tim Eliyesil)


What to expect

This year’s meeting is being held outside on the field in front of the library and the Bromfield School. Parking is allowed around the school or library. Handicapped-accessible parking will be available on the field in front of the library. People with impaired mobility, but who lack handic apped-accessible parking permits, can park near the field on Mass. Ave. Attendees who park in the accessible areas will be seated in the corner closest to check-in. (See map at right.)

You should try to arrive early, preferably close to 9:30 a.m., as check-in and seating are expected to take longer this year.

The check-in procedure will be similar to past years. There will be four “gates” along the path in front of the library, directing attendees into lines based on street address. Walkways will be one-way to keep people a safe distance apart.

At the check-in gate, you will register and receive your voting card and additional materials. For the safety of everyone involved, there will be plexiglass barriers separating you from those checking you in. This is similar to the current setup at Town Hall.

Once “inside,” you can take a seat on the lawn. Chairs will be spaced 6 feet apart under the main tent and should not be moved. There will be additional seating in a couples tent where groups of two can sit together and a mask-free tent for those who are unable to wear a face covering because of medical issues. You can also bring your own chair and sit outside the tents as long as you maintain social distancing.

Hand sanitizer will be everywhere!

How to participate

As always, Town Meeting is an opportunity to get your voice heard, and Moderator Bill Barton encourages participation.

To speak, walk to the microphone and stay 6 feet apart from others while waiting in line. If you are in the no-mask tent, stay in your seat, raise your hand, and wait for the town administrator to bring you a microphone. The microphones will be sanitized between each use.

Once you have been recognized by the moderator, state your name and address and speak only to the motion or question before the meeting. All comments should bring up a new point and should not simply reiterate something that has already been said. Address the chair, not another individual, and keep in mind that a vote ends all discussion on a motion.

To vote, raise your voting card for either yea or nay and keep it raised until the moderator and vote counters have completed their count.

What to bring

Your mask should be high on your town meeting checklist this year. Unless you have a medical condition that does not allow you to wear a face covering, you will not be admitted without one.

The Town Meeting booklet is your guide to the day’s proceedings. It provides overviews of the issues that will be discussed at the meeting, as well as detailed budget sheets, graphs, participation etiquette, and a glossary of Town Meeting terms. It includes a blank page for notes—but only one—so scrawlers and doodlers may want to bring a notebook as well.

The Town Meeting booklet also includes a volunteer form for those interested in being considered for future openings on town committees.

Be sure to pick up a copy of the 2019 Annual Town Report, which contains reports from every department and volunteer board in Harvard for the 2019 calendar year, as well as the minutes of the 2019 annual and special town meetings. On the last page, you’ll find the name(s) of this year’s Citizen of Note—but mum’s the word until it’s announced.

A true pro will also bring along a copy of this week’s issue of the Harvard Press, or at least the pages that include the “Warrant in Plain English.” Unless, of course, you prefer to take on the brow-furrowing process of translating the legal jargon yourself.

The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. and will continue straight through without breaks, so you may want to bring a drink or snack. Moderator Bill Barton said it is OK to remove your mask to take a bite or sip, but that it should be replaced as soon as possible.

Getting there

The Harvard Council on Aging will be providing ride services for anyone who needs transportation to and from the meeting. The COA van will pick up residents at their homes, or they can park at Hildreth House and take a shuttle to the meeting site. Van service will begin around 9 a.m. and shuttle service closer to 9:30 a.m.

To use either the van or shuttle service, call the COA at (978) 456-4120 to receive a time slot. While the service is typically used by seniors, Director Deborah Thompson said it is available to all residents.

To avoid spread of the coronavirus, you will need to wear a mask while in the van. Each van will transport only one person at a time unless they are members of the same household or use a wheelchair, in which case they will need to be accompanied by an aide. Riders will be separated from the driver and the van will be sanitized between trips. Those who have symptoms of the coronavirus, or have been exposed to someone who does, will not be allowed to ride. Screening questions will be asked prior to riding to make this determination.

Return services will be provided following the meeting. However, if you want to leave early you can arrange for that as well.

Child care

In past years, the League of Women Voters has organized babysitting for Town Meeting. This year that service will not be available. But children will be welcome at the meeting as long as they wear masks and adhere to social distancing standards.

Staying safe and healthy

Town Meeting will be a new experience for everyone this year, and many may have concerns about gathering at this time. However, the boards and committee members behind the meeting’s organization have and will be taking considerable precautions to keep everybody safe. These will include the seating arrangements, plexiglass dividers, sanitation of microphones between speakers, and copious amounts of hand sanitizer. Moderator Barton has this message for those trying to decide whether or not to attend:

“I know it’s a scary time. I know it’s a difficult decision. I want people to make the decision that is best for themselves in whether or not they come. We are doing everything as an organization, we believe, to protect them … and if they feel comfortable coming, I absolutely want them to come. … I think everything will be safe but, again, that’s for each person in their own situation to make that determination. This is a scary time for everybody.”

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