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Special Town Meeting

What’s so special about Special Town Meeting? For one thing, it’s not Annual Town Meeting, the traditional gathering held each spring by municipalities across the state to budget for the coming fiscal year, launch major projects, and pass new bylaws designed to protect town land or encourage desired development. By contrast, special town meetings, if they’re held at all, are typically held in the fall, after the start of a new fiscal year, to adjust budgets and deal with other financial matters that might have surfaced in intervening months.

But this year was supposed to be different. Rather than holding a single all-day ATM, town officials elected to split it, with one session in the spring to deal with budgeting, capital projects, and other financial matters, and a second in the fall to debate and make changes to town bylaws. Officials rebranded the two sessions as Spring Town Meeting and Fall Town Meeting. At the Press we added these new names to our style guide and began to refer to them as such.

Oh, the irony. At Saturday’s meeting, despite everyone’s best intentions, financial matters will once again dominate the agenda—not unexpectedly, given the budget deficit that remains following the voters’ rejection of an override in June and the fluctuating financial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are spending adjustments that must be made and capital projects that can’t wait. But there will be no bylaw to debate. The Planning Board had hoped that this fall’s meeting would provide ample time at last for a thoughtful discussion of a single, though complex, zoning change. This Monday, however, the planners acknowledged they weren’t ready and voted to ask Town Meeting on Saturday to take no action on the one article they had submitted earlier this month. (See story on page 1).

Even the new meeting name has been undone by a parliamentary error. Instead of declaring a continuance of this year’s Spring Town Meeting (held in June) to a later time, Moderator Bill Barton adjourned it, snuffing his ability to continue the meeting to a second session and making it necessary for the Select Board last month to call a Special Town Meeting to deal with pending business.

Whatever its name, citizens are once again summoned to attend a consequential session of Harvard’s municipal legislature this Saturday at noon. We’ve done our best to clarify the agenda with deeper looks at Article 2, Articles 6 through 8, and Article 9, as well as our traditional guide, “Warrant in Plain English,” and a glossary of municipal jargon.

Call it “special” or “fall,” it’s town meeting time and there’s business to be done. See you there.

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