STONEHAM - Recognizing the potential risks posed to poll workers and the voting public, the Select Board this week postponed April's municipal election — just days before Stonehamites would have cast their ballots.
Taking advantage of emergency legislation passed on Beacon Hill on Monday night, the elected officials on Tuesday unanimously agreed to take the unprecedented action in light of the ongoing COVID-19 emergency that has killed at least 11 and left nearly 100 people across the state hospitalized.
At the recommendation of Town Clerk Maria Sagarino, who was advised by Select Board Chair Shelly MacNeill about the possible delay, the 2020 municipal elections will now be held on June 2. The elections had been scheduled for April 6.
"There has been some guidance from the legislature allowing us to do this. The secretary of state [William Galvin] has also waived the need for us to reprint all the ballot. So we are able to take advantage of the ballots that we already printed," explained MacNeill.
In a display of unity, the Select Board uniformly agreed the two-month-long postponement was necessary in order to protect Stoneham's most vulnerable from the highly contagious novel coronavirus. The decision also comes after Mass. Governor Charles Baker on Monday imposed the most draconian emergency measures to date to combat the outbreak by ordering all non-essential businesses to shutdown operations.
With confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the United States surging from 1,600 to nearly 54,000 persons over the past two-weeks, some on the Select Board questioned whether the pandemic would be brought under control within the next few months.
However, while acknowledging the fluidity of the public health crisis, the local officials ultimately agreed the new June 2 date was based upon the best information available.
"We spoke with the town clerk and given that many of our election workers are probably considered high risk, we thought postponing the election is the right thing to do…Given [Sagarino] is the town clerk and has to make this work, I recommend we follow her lead," said MacNeill.
"We can't know what will come in the next six to eight weeks. So we'll just have to remain vigilant in watching over our dates and timelines," the chairwoman continued.
According to Town Counsel Robert Galvin, based upon the recently passed emergency elections' legislation, Stoneham is required to conduct a series of public outreach and notification efforts, including:
• A posting of the ballot with the revised June 2 voting date on the community's website;
• The issuance of press releases to local media outlets;
• And the use of other communication vehicles, such as advertisements on StonehamTV and the use of Stoneham's reverse 911 notification system.
"You're supposed to use as many ways as possible to advertise it," said Galvin.
Select Board members Caroline Colarusso and Raymie Parker also inquired about mailing out postcards to each household in Stoneham, though Colarusso was quick to point out that the town clerk's office would likely need help to cover such an expense.
"I don't know if she has that kind of money in her budget. I know she runs a pretty tight ship over there," said Colarusso, who was inclined to favor any initiative that increased public awareness about the new election date.
According to Town Administrator Dennis Sheehan, who agreed to look for the money needed to foot the estimated $7,500 to $10,000 mailing bill, Stoneham has already established a special account to keep track of any extraordinary expenditures resulting from the COVID-19 emergency.
"We have set up a separate account for tracking costs. It will give us a reference for any [reimbursement requests that may come from federal emergency funds]," he explained.