Lenox postpones annual town meeting for 'at least a month'

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LENOX - Facing insurmountable logistical challenges for the rescheduled annual town meeting June 25, the Select Board has voted unanimously to put it off again until a date uncertain later this summer.

"The wise thing to do is to postpone it for at least a month, and then see where we are from there," Select Board Chairman Edward Lane said at a Friday board meeting.

Since the normal deadline for voter approval of the annual town budget is before July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, the town will go month by month, spending at least one-twelfth of the current budget, as authorized by the state, and more if needed.

Lenox joins Adams, Lee, Stockbridge and Williamstown, among others, in postponing the annual gathering of town voters or representatives because of social distancing rules and limits on large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although Lane conceded that the special "drive-in" town meeting at the high school parking lot this month was "nice and fun," trying to hold the annual gathering there would reduce the normal higher turnout.

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"I just think it's unfair to everybody," he said.

The special meeting drew 183 voters in more than 100 vehicles in favorable weather to approve temporary relaxation of town bylaws in order to streamline approvals for outdoor dining on town property. The meeting took only 10 minutes.

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Select Board member Marybeth Mitts, after citing the ease of the one-article special meeting, pointed out that the typical agenda for the annual meeting would be challenging for a "drive-in" format.

Selectman David Roche agreed that the logistics would be difficult, "and if we had bad weather, it would be a disaster."

Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen pointed out that the town accountant and treasurer will get the green light for one-twelfth spending to fund town departments while also meeting lump-sum payments due July 1, such as county retirement assessments.

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"You can't pay one-twelfth of a bill that's due, so, the state makes accommodations in their rules," Ketchen said. "We are an open town meeting, and the current emergency affects a certain demographic we would potentially be disenfranchising if we plow ahead."

"The town will keep running, all the bills will get paid," Lane agreed. "Things should be smooth, as far as finances go."

"The operations of the town will continue to move forward," Ketchen said.

In addition to typical budget articles, the agenda for the town meeting, whenever it's held, includes a citizens petition seeking to overturn the Select Board's endorsement of the Environmental Protection Agency-General Electric cleanup plan to remove PCBs from the Housatonic River and store low-level toxic material at an "upland waste disposal facility" in northwest Lee, near the river and across from the village of Lenox Dale. Another petition would ban fireworks from wetlands along Undermountain Road in the vicinity of Parsons Marsh.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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