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A resident is suing to force Williamstown to move its annual town meeting to a larger venue because of COVID concerns

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 — With COVID cases again surging across the Berkshires, a resident is taking legal action to try to prevent the town from convening the scheduled annual town meeting tonight at Williamstown Elementary School.

Janice Loux is filing suit in Berkshire Superior Court asking a judge to issue an emergency restraining order on the town to halt the meeting.

Some 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 take precautions such as wearing a mask and social distancing.

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.

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

But those with concerns contend that the level of infection is too dangerous and would prevent many from attending.

“We are hoping for a ruling that will eliminate the need for anyone to show up to the meeting in order to vote on a change of venue,” Loux said.

According to Steve Dew, a Williamstown resident and attorney representing Loux, the emergency request was to be filed Monday night via email. He was hopeful that a judge would take up the case today.

“It’s a rush job, but the [emergency request] tool exists for just this kind of thing,” Dew said. “A ruling in our favor would prevent the meeting from convening.”

In an email that was shared with The Eagle, Loux stressed the importance finding a change of 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,” she wrote. “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 this past weekend as a result of the residents’ concerns, according to Andrew Hogeland, chairman of the Select Board.

“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.”

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

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