TEWKSBURY — Just ahead of the start of the new fiscal year, residents got down to business at annual Town Meeting.
Town Meeting kicked off Monday night with a moment of silence for those affected by COVID-19, as well as Tewksbury citizens and former employees who have passed away this year.
“These are unusual times due to the pandemic but we will do our best to make this town meeting a familiar experience through with some extra precautions,” Town Moderator Todd Johnson as he opened the meeting.
This year’s annual Town Meeting warrant was pared down to essential items as a result of the pandemic. The bulk of articles considered essential were financial. In an earlier interview with the Sun, Town Manager Richard Montuori said the withdrawn articles would likely be addressed either at fall Town Meeting or annual Town Meeting next spring.
Residents made quick work of the light warrant and moved through all 22 articles, including the town’s proposed budget, in just about an hour. Article 4 proposed a $121.5 million budget for FY21 — it passed unanimously without discussion.
Most of the other articles passed without discussion, including articles 5, 6 and 7 to appropriate $6.6 million for the Sewer Enterprise Fund, $7.3 million for the Water Enterprise Fund and $1.1 million for the Stormwater Enterprise Fund.
Town Meeting also passed an amendment to the storm water bylaw which, according to Montuori, needed to be updated to align with recent changes introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency. Article 20, which transferred land parcels to the Conservation Commission for conservation purposes, also passed.
A citizens’ petition and a citizens’ resolution, both brought by resident George Ferdinand, inspired some discussion on the floor.
Ferdinand’s first article — Article 21 — looked to change the process for filling sudden vacancies on town boards and committees. Instead of holding a special election, the article proposed filling the seat with the runner-up for the same board or committee in the most recent election, but lost. To take up the vacant and unexpired seat, that candidate would need to receive 25% of votes in the most recent election.
Ferdinand argued this process would save taxpayers the cost of a special election. Three other residents who spoke on the article argued against it and called for indefinite postponement. Some questioned whether the article was in compliance with state law.
Selectman Jay Kelly argued that sometimes, candidates in a contested race receive throwaway votes because the voter does not like one candidate and automatically votes for the opponent without knowing anything about him or her.
“I think there’s really no good reason for doing this,” Kelly said as he urged the town to stick to its current process.
Ferdinand’s other article was a non-binding resolution to affirm that only U.S. citizens can vote in federal, state and municipal elections.
The other residents who rose to speak on the resolution, including a resident who recently obtained citizenship, argued against its adoption.
“I think that is showing some ignorance of the process, my process took 13 years while I was a resident living here, paying my taxes, my kids going to school,” the resident who recently obtained citizenship said.
The resident called the resolution hostile.
“Passing this article would say that we do not care about our neighbors,” he said.
Town Meeting ultimately voted to indefinitely postpone both of Ferdinand’s articles.
Residents and officials will be back Wednesday night to take up Special Town Meeting and to vote on the remaining two articles in the annual warrant, which are zoning-related. Just before Monday night’s Town Meeting, the Zoning Bylaw Committee voted to recommend withdrawing both zoning articles, meaning Wednesday looks to be another short night.