The new Williams Inn takes shape at the bottom of Spring Street in Williamstown.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Town officials hope that a modification to the practice of the annual town meeting will streamline the event and allow more time for discussion of potentially contentious issues.
For the first time Tuesday, Moderator Adam Filson will ask the town to pass as many as 16 articles via a "consent agenda," which will allow a number of actions — mostly monetary in nature — to be passed on a single vote, rather than having to go through each item article by article.
Town Manager Jason Hoch and Select Board Chairman Hugh Daley explained the proposal at Monday's board meeting.
Daley likened it to the consent agenda procedure the board has been using for the last two years.
"I feel it's had a good effect on our procedures and processes," Daley said. "It allows us to give time to those items where we really need to spend time as opposed to procedural stuff."
Hoch noted that the innovation is one that has been used in towns throughout the commonwealth to make their annual town meetings more efficient.
"This is not us reinventing the wheel," Hoch said.
Daley stressed that any town voter can put a "hold" on any one of the articles within the consent agenda, and that item would be pulled out for discussion and a separate vote.
"If you have a concern about any warrant article, it's our job to make sure you're comfortable with the article, and we're happy to have the conversation," Daley said.
The items in the proposed consent agenda include all of the regular appropriations that have been vetted throughout the winter and spring by the town's Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen and are, generally, the kind of items that routinely pass the April meeting without either discussion or significant dissenting voice votes — if any.
Select Board member Jeffrey Thomas said he was concerned that in the first year of the practice some voters may feel rushed. But he was satisfied when Hoch pointed out that the consent agenda items will be listed in a separate handout to be distributed to town residents at the meeting, along with explanatory text about the consent agenda procedure.
Although there are few items further down the warrant that are likely to generate considerable discussion at Tuesday's meeting, that is a break with the usual pattern. Daley said the hope is that instead of wearing voters out with lengthy reading and individual votes on relatively "pro forma" actions, residents will be able to devote more time to the issues that call out for a full and fair debate on the floor of the meeting.
One town finance article that will have its own place on the agenda concerns the request of voters for approval to borrow up to $5 million to finance the new police station on Simonds Road.
On that front, Hoch gave the Select Board a positive report about the bids that have been received for addition and renovation of the former Turner House for homeless veterans.
"The good news is that based on the bids received, our estimate for the total project cost is right in the ballpark," he told the board.
Hoch said that if the bond is approved by town meeting on Tuesday, the town could start awarding bids by the end of the week.
It will be a week of milestones on other construction fronts if everything goes according to plan.
Hoch also reported that Williams College has informed that the town that by Friday evening, the college hopes to open Latham Street to vehicular traffic and complete paving in the municipal parking lot at the bottom of Spring Street.
The former has been closed because of the replacement of the undersized culvert that carries Christmas Brook under downtown. The latter, a college-owned lot operated jointly by Williams and the town, is being expanded to create an additional bay to accommodate the parking for the new Williams Inn.
In addition to the creation of more spaces at the site — including a slight increase in the number of spaces open to the public 365 days a year — the college took the opportunity to install new stormwater detention capacity under the lot.
Although this is not the end of the construction in the village business district, both steps are significant on the road to normalcy downtown.
"The worst of it will be behind us," Hoch said. "At the end of this week, hopefully, all the closures, particularly on Spring Street and Latham Street and, further back, on Walden Street will be behind us."
Walden Street, which is currently open, was closed a couple of years ago to accommodate construction of the college's new science center and the bookstore at the corner of Walden and Spring Street.
Select Board member Andrew Hogeland commended the college on getting the parking lot paved and Latham Street reopened on time for a project that began in October 2017.
"I assume that the merchants on Spring Street have not been happy with all the work going on … but to get it done in seven or so months is amazing," Hogeland said.
Hoch pointed out that the parking lot paving allows the town's Farmers Market to open for the season on Saturday in its customary home — the Spring Street lot.
"Come for the pavement, stay for the produce," Hoch joked. "I'm pretty sure that's not how they're marketing this, but there's a reason I have my day job."
The town is not entirely out of the woods yet on the construction front. The culvert replacement still requires work on Meacham Street, and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's rebuild of a section of Water Street [Route 43] continues.
"Most of the work you see [on Water Street] now is utility work," Hoch said. "The balance of the work will be in the fall."
In other business on Monday, the Select Board approved a modification for the alcohol license at Images Cinema on Spring Street.
The movie house recently began showing films in a small "pop-up" theater space at the former Red Herring restaurant adjacent to Images. Images manager Doug Jones was before the board to ask that the theater's patrons be allowed to bring alcoholic beverages into the second screening room.
Jones explained that all the sales will continue in the Images lobby with the same procedure currently used for sales to moviegoers at the main screen.
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