Select Board Votes in Favor of Requiring Masks at Annual Town Meeting

March 8, 2022

The Select Board Monday unanimously voted to require everyone at Annual Town Meeting to wear a mask.

The board grappled with several alternatives, but in the end, came to the conclusion that only a blanket policy will allow an environment in which all voters can feel secure.

Leading up to the vote, several members noted that by starting at the most stringent position, there may be room to relax it if Covid-19 continues to recede. Select Board member William Moonan pointed out that “it’s easier to back off from totality than impose totality.”

However, the next time the board is scheduled to meet is March 28—an hour before the start of Annual Town Meeting. Moonan will not have a vote at that meeting because his term expires after Saturday’s election.

Town Manager Sarah Stanton introduced the topic of masks at Monday’s meeting. “One item we talked about was satellite rooms” at Bedford High School, electronically connected to the actual meeting in Buckley Auditorium. She said her office is working with Bedford TV staff to see if the arrangement is feasible.

“I’m intrigued by that as a solution,” said Select Board member Emily Mitchell. “I know we do have folks who want to come to Town Meeting but they don’t feel comfortable if people are not going to be masked. I don’t want to make anybody choose between their health and democracy. If there is a way to create space, that’s an interesting compromise.”

Member Bopha Malone endorsed the concept, giving voters a choice. Board Chair Margot Fleischman agreed. “I heartily endorse the idea of providing satellite rooms and making sure there are enough tellers” to convey voting totals. She noted that there is precedent for using overflow rooms when the auditorium capacity is exhausted. Those connections have not been two-way; voters who wished to speak needed to migrate to the auditorium.

“I feel the compassionate thing to do is to prioritize the specific needs of the vulnerable,” Mitchell said. “But if we do have this other option it would perhaps keep the event open and not cause any flashpoints.”

But her colleague Ed Pierce suggested that a satellite room really constitutes a separate status. “Is that the diversity and equity we want?” Pierce tossed out the possibility of sectioning the auditorium, but Fleischman said everyone would still be breathing the same air.

Moonan acknowledged that regardless of Covid trends, “there will be a group who are not comfortable without masks and we don’t want to exclude them.” Although the alternative rooms can be considered if the technology works, “the simplest solution is all masks.” He noted that some voters will be deterred because of the requirement, saying, “I don’t know if you can please all the people all the time.”

“We are all struggling with trying to hit the right balance,” Fleischman observed. “If we start with the position of requiring, then it gives clarity to how we move forward. I don’t know if there’s any information one way or another that will change anything.”

Mitchell noted that one of the five performances of next week’s BHS musical requires face covering; masks at the other four are “strongly recommended” for audience members.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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Laura Reynolds
March 13, 2022 7:43 am

It would be virtually impossible for people like me who are hearing impaired to follow the discussion with masked speakers.

Alison O'Connell
March 9, 2022 10:41 am

The Select Board voted to require masks. The Board Of Health rescinded the mandate, and is the Board with the authority to do so. We should honor the Board of Health’s decision. Please wear a mask if you choose. But not because you have to. Because as of 2/14: that was rescinded.

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