The West Tisbury town meeting is slated to happen on June 23 at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs, but officials are still deciding the best way to make that happen.
According to town administrator Jen Rand, the state guidelines for outdoor spaces like zoos and botanical gardens are the most comparable to an outdoor gathering like a town meeting, and those venues are restricted to no more than 20 percent total capacity.
Because the Tabernacle seats 1,500 people, the largest West Tisbury town meeting size of around 300 would be at just around 20 percent of the maximum capacity of that space.
“If all the governor’s metrics of going to phase two continue in the correct path, phase two would begin on June 8. We don’t know what the guidelines would be for larger gatherings at that point,” Rand said.
As of now, Rand said the decision to put off town meeting to the fall would be premature, and suggested the best course of action be to plan for a meeting on June 23, understanding that the Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury boards of health could call it off at any point.
“My intent is to continue to plan for the 23rd, giving him [Omar Johnson, board of health agent] the comfort that I fully understand that on the 22nd, he could say we aren’t going to do it, and that’s fine. I can cancel a town meeting in one day, I can’t pull a town meeting together in one day,” Rand said.
Selectman Skipper Manter said he went to the Tabernacle to take a look at the social distancing logistics involved, and thought it would be a complicated task to host a meeting there while adhering to the six-foot distancing guidelines.
“It’s going to be hard to maintain social distancing, because it is bench seating. You are going to have to have someone physically ask people not to sit there. I think that is going to be problematic; people are going to do what they want to do, as we know,” Manter said.
Rand said that issue has been discussed at length, and noted that all the issues involved with hosting a gathering of any significant size will have to be addressed before plans can be solidified.
The idea of using painters tape to designate seating areas was pitched, and Rand said that at least 20 or 25 percent of the attending public would be couples who wouldn’t be required to social distance.
“Without question, there are a million questions about pulling off a town meeting, but I think it’s too soon to say that June is not possible,” Rand said.
Officials also agreed that they wanted Rand to have a backup plan in place, just in case the Tabernacle venue fell through, or was deemed unsafe by the boards of health.
Manter said he is still wondering whether it would be less complicated to host the meeting at the West Tisbury School in the athletic field, because it would be easier to organize seating.
“You are basically putting the chairs in place where they belong, and that is where people would be forced to sit,” Manter said.
Selectman Kent Healy said he thinks it would be simpler for people to access the Ag Society grounds, and noted his concern for people having to find parking in downtown Oak Bluffs and then walk to the Tabernacle.
He reminded the board that the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School has established a drive-in graduation on the Ag Society grounds as plan B, with plan A being a ceremony at the Tabernacle. Healy wondered whether having some sort of similar setup for town meetings at the Ag Society would be safer and more efficient.
“I think it should be considered. If the high school thinks they can have their graduation at the Ag Society, I think we should look at having our annual town meeting there also,” Healy said.
Rand said that normally people vote by voice or by hand, and if people are in their cars, how does the town moderator deal with voting? Rand suggested that holding surveyors flags out the window might work, and Doug Ruskin suggested electronic voting.
“All these things come with a laundry list of complications,” Rand said.
Rand said Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake told her he believed having a town meeting at the Tabernacle would not be a problem, but Manter said this is the first event the police have had to handle since the start of COVID-19.