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A Town Meeting like no other

Just when you least expect it, it’s town meeting time. Harvard citizens are called to gather on the field in front of the Bromfield School and library this Saturday, June 20, to debate and decide 21 articles including a $33.7 million omnibus budget—unbalanced and the largest in town history—and 15 capital projects, including three that would require borrowing a total of $5.9 million.

The meeting is both novel and concerning. It’s the first to be held in the midst of a pandemic. It’s certainly the first in in anyone’s memory to be held outdoors, under tents and on the grass, prompting comparisons of town politics and the circus. And it’s the first to be devoted almost exclusively to financial matters, the first of two sessions, one this spring, the next in the fall.

Town officials hope the meeting can be wrapped up by early afternoon. With its focus on financial matters, there will be no wrangling over impenetrably complex bylaws. Organizers have taken extraordinary measures to ensure everyone’s safety and minimize the risk of COVID-19 infection. But the risk remains, and if a recent Press survey is any indication, many older citizens will choose to stay home. With so much at stake, including a vote on an addition for the senior center, it would be a shame not to have a full representation of town residents. There is considerable support for convening the meeting and then, after dealing with articles that can’t wait, suspending the meeting for 30 days. By then not only might the risks have subsided, but more will be known about the state of local and commonwealth finances.

Inside this issue of the Press you’ll find some tools to help you make sense of this year’s proceedings. Read our Insider’s Guide to Town Meeting, with its handy map, to plan your day. Then turn to our Warrant in Plain English for a concise look at every item on the agenda. We’ve analyzed in depth two of this year’s most debate-worthy articles, the budget and a request by Parks and Recreation for jurisdiction over the town beach and certain athletic fields.

Then on Saturday morning, come if you can—with face mask, bottled water, snacks, warrant booklet, Harvard Press, sun/rain protection, disinfectant wipes, a card with your name and address printed on it for easy check-in (since masks are mandatory) and a commitment to keeping your neighbors safe. 

As an attendee, you’ll get to decide what happens next. And in a world tilting towards more centralized, less representative governance, that right is a privilege. 

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