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Judge denies restraining order to postpone Williamstown Town Meeting

Williamstown Elementary School

A resident's emergency request in Berkshire Superior Court to prevent Williamstown from holding its annual town meeting citing concerns about COVID transmission has failed, although the judge did mandate that masks be worn during the meeting.

WILLIAMSTOWN —  Berkshire Superior Court Judge Maureen Hogan has denied a motion for an emergency restraining order to postpone and reschedule the annual town meeting, but she mandated that all participants shall wear masks provided by the town.

Hogan’s ruling on Tuesday afternoon was in response to a request by Williamstown resident Janice Loux to issue a restraining order to prevent this evening's town meeting. The motion maintained that the level of COVID-19 infections in town is too high and would prevent many from attending the meeting for fear of contracting the disease.

"What the town is actually doing is forcing the most vulnerable people in town to put themselves at risk" in order to vote to secure a safer venue, said attorney Steve Dew, another Williamstown resident who was representing Loux.

As a result, Williamstown’s annual town meeting will proceed beginning at 7 p.m. at Williamstown Elementary School.

Several residents have been pushing to move the meeting either outside or to a larger space to reduce the odds of the infection spreading at the meeting, while others are advising folks to social distance and wear a mask as precautions.

In response to comments from residence, officials added an article to the town meeting warrant proposing that the meeting be held on another day in a larger venue.

But because some people may be too anxious to attend, they wouldn’t be there to vote on changing the venue.

“There are several important articles being voted on and it is important that these votes are not tainted by disenfranchised voters who can’t participate,” Loux said in a Monday news release announcing her legal effort. “If this meeting goes forward in the current form, it is a clear statement to people who are immunocompromised or have certain disabilities that they are second class citizens in this upcoming Williamstown Town Meeting.”

Town officials offered the proposed change of venue article as a result of resident’s concerns, according to Select Board Chairman Andrew Hogeland.

“At this point, the authority to adjourn Town Meeting rests with whoever votes on that question at Town Meeting on Tuesday night,” he wrote in an email to the community. “So if this question is important to you, you should show up if you can safely and comfortably do so to vote on it. Since such a motion may fail, you should show up if you can safely and comfortably do so to attend the full Town Meeting which would proceed. In any case, I hope the prospect of adjournment does not reduce attendance.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all of Berkshire County is listed as high risk for COVID transmission, including Williamstown, which reported 100 new cases in the last seven days and currently has a 10 percent positivity rate.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-4622.

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