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Barnard bucks COVID trend, will hold in-person Town Meeting

  • Moderator Paul Doton reads off the final motions for the Barnard School Meeting at the Barnard Town Hall in Barnard, Vt., on March 3, 2015. The school meeting lasted less than forty minutes. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

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    Moderator Paul Doton reads off the final motions for the Barnard school meeting at Town Hall on Tuesday. The school meeting lasted less than forty minutes. Valley News — Sarah Priestap Sarah Priestap

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2021 9:53:33 PM
Modified: 5/13/2021 9:53:30 PM

BARNARD — After deciding to postpone Town Meeting until May, members of the Barnard Selectboard talked over how best to do the town’s business.

They considered voting on everything by Australian ballot, as most Upper Valley towns did in March. Then they looked into holding the meeting in a tent set up next to the open bays of the town’s emergency services building, which would have provided for a big, open-air space, but the cost of renting a tent and chairs and the chance of bad weather gave them pause.

So this close-knit town of 900 will do what it has always done, albeit with health precautions in place: Town Meeting will be in Town Hall on Saturday. Town officials said they think the event fits within the state’s new guidelines for indoor gatherings.

“We think we have a plan where we can get people spaced out,” Selectboard Chairman Rock Webster said this week. “We’re trying to make the best of it.”

The Selectboard rejected the Australian ballot idea, mainly because residents have a couple of important decisions to talk over. On the warning is a plan to replace the town’s elected listers with a professional appraiser, the kind of fundamental change that calls for discussion.

And town officials erred in putting the budget together, leaving three or four small road projects out of the highway budget, which left it $70,000 short of what it should be, Webster said. Amending the budget to correct this oversight is best done from the floor, Webster said.

Renting a tent was going to cost $7,000, Webster said. “It didn’t seem like a very pragmatic way to spend $7,000,” he said.

The meeting still has to follow the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 guidelines, which as of May 1 allow for indoor gatherings of “one unvaccinated person per 100 square feet up to 150 unvaccinated people (whichever is less), plus any number of fully vaccinated people,” the guidelines say.

Helpfully, the guidelines add, “100 square feet is about the area covered by a big sports utility vehicle (SUV).” It’s unclear how many big sports utility vehicles Barnard Town Hall can accommodate.

Barnard Town Meeting tends to draw 100 to 120 people, according to the Town Clerk’s Office.

Town officials plan to open the Town Hall’s windows; enhanced ventilation was widely touted as a way to keep schools safe as they reopened last fall.

Most attendees will stand, with seating reserved for people who need it.

Families will be able to stand in groups, which will make social distancing easier, said Robert Ramrath, the town’s zoning administrator and assistant to the Selectboard.

In addition, people will be required to wear masks, there will be a log of attendees for contact tracing, and a health “self-assessment,” Ramrath said.

Webster noted that the town’s population is getting on in years, and that most residents have gotten vaccinated.

“I think most everybody is going to be vaccinated,” Webster said.

There’s no town-by-town data on vaccinations, but the state’s vaccination data showed that as of Tuesday 67.2% of Windsor County residents age 16 or older had received at least one dose of a vaccine.

It’s hard to know in advance what the meeting will look like, but Ramrath said the Selectboard hopes to stick to the agenda, get the town’s business done and send everyone home without the meeting dragging on unnecessarily.

It’s also unclear whether holding the meeting on a Saturday will bring out more attendees, or whether the pandemic will lead more people to stay home.

If the numbers are too big, the meeting can always be adjourned, Ramrath noted.

“They will do the right thing,” he said.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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