Southwick hosts outdoor special town meeting

Matt Olson and Jessica Manzone of the Southwick Town Clerk’s office check in a resident during the March 24, 2020 Special Town Meeting. (HOPE E. TREMBLAY/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

Residents stood 6 feet apart in a parking lot to cast their vote

SOUTHWICK – Not even the threat of coronavirus stopped residents, standing 6 feet apart in the Southwick Regional School parking lot, from passing three articles March 24 during a Special Town Meeting.

Town Moderator James Putnam II said he and town leaders considered delaying the meeting, which was supposed to be Monday but was postponed one day due to the snow, but the article pertaining to lake treatment was time sensitive.

Article 3 was to appropriate $800,000 for aluminum sulfate treatment of Congamond Lakes, which must be done in early April because of water temperatures.

Putnam said the decision to continue the meeting in light of the COVID-19 crisis was the “most difficult” he has made as moderator. Prior to the meeting, Putnam posted strict guidelines calling for only registered voters, town officials and the press to attend the meeting. Anyone not feeling well was asked to stay home.

Cynthia Marshall holds a sign in protest of hosting the Southwick Special Town Meeting during the coronavirus pandemic March 24, 2020. (HOPE E. TREMBLAY/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

Residents had to check in single-file while standing 6 feet apart, then were asked to stand within the confines of lined parking spaces in order to comply with social distancing during the accelerated meeting.

Most of the 138 residents in attendance came out to support the lake treatment. One resident, Cynthia Marshall, stood at the entrance to the parking lot wearing a mask and gloves while holding a sign in protest.

Marshall said they should have postponed the meeting.

“This meeting could have been postponed for 30 days,” she said. “I am not saying anything about our right to vote or assemble, but it could have been postponed.”

Marshall said there are usually many more residents at town meetings and hosting the meeting when people are being told to stay home for their health eliminated the opportunity to vote for some residents.

Putnam said the vote was needed.

Residents wait 6 feet apart to check into the Southwick Special Town Meeting hosted in the Southwick Regional School parking lot March 24, 2020. (HOPE E. TREMBLAY/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

Southwick Town Moderator James Putnam speaks from the back of a truck so that voters could see and hear him during an outdoor Special Town Meeting March 24, 2020. (HOPE E. TREMBLAY/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

“Nobody, not the president of the United States, not the governor can take away the right for people to gather together to perform their legislative duty,” Putnam said.

Putnam said every precaution was taken and he observed that people were complying without complaint.

“I’m pleased,” he said. “People are staying in their corners.”

While Putnam acknowledged this was the first time he had seen an outdoor town meeting, he doubted it was the first time Southwick residents voted outside.

“I believe that in 250 years it has been done before,” he said.

Residents also overwhelmingly approved an easement to maintain Berkshire Avenue and an appropriation for lighting and electrical work at Whalley Park Pavilion for $12,000.

The lake treatment article passed by a vote of 135-3.



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