MOUNT DESERT — The May 4 municipal election and May 5 open floor town meeting have been postponed until “a date uncertain” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Board of Selection made that decision Monday on the recommendation of Town Manager Durlin Lunt.
“It is probable that many citizens who would normally attend town meeting will be reluctant to participate in a large public gathering where ‘social distancing’ would not be practical,” he said in a memo to the board.
The town charter states that at least 50 registered voters must be present for any business to be conducted at a town meeting.
Lunt noted that Mount Desert Elementary School, where the town meeting is held, is closed until at least May 1 by order of the governor.
“It may be difficult for [the school] to host a large public gathering so soon after returning, due to the possibility of introducing a contagion to a facility used frequently by students and staff,” he wrote. Town meetings are held in the school’s gym.
As for the May 4 secret ballot election, Lunt said, “Finding election workers … may be problematic, and the Somesville fire station where voting will take place is still under lockdown status.”
Local elected officials whose terms expire this year will remain in office until the election can be held. In Mount Desert, that applies to Selectman Rick Mooers and school committee member Charlie Wray, who are not seeking reelection.
Before adjourning ahead of schedule last month, the Legislature passed a bill authorizing municipalities to postpone town meetings because of the coronavirus pandemic. Emergency legislation also allows municipalities “to continue to fund government operations at the same budget levels approved for the previous year.”
As for why town meeting should be postponed to “a date uncertain” rather than to a specific date, Lunt told the selectmen Monday that, at this point, no one knows when it will be safe for people to gather for a town meeting.
“The Legislature and the governor have given us the tools to be able to put this up on the shelf temporarily,” he said. “This is all uncharted territory.”