Billy Michael, founder of the , is hoping the public will come out to “urge and compel” the Board of Selectmen to create an ordinance that assures all residents have the same access to information about referendums. The All or Nothing Petition will be the focus of a Special Town Hall meeting tonight.
“According to Michael, many residents were unaware of recent referendums unless they received school newsletters. Michael believes that many of the town's residents who do not have children in school or make daily use of the computer would prefer to be reached by postal mail.”
According to Martin Lawlor, Town Attorney, tonight’s meeting is no different than a public hearing and the meeting will not vote on an ordinance. “I’m not saying it doesn’t matter, because it does,” he said.
The language of the petition called for the hearing to urge and compel the Board of Selectmen (BOS) to create the ordinance, but Lawlor said that that is not really possible. “It’s a recommendation,” Lawlor said.
Lawlor provided an email that was filed with the Town Clerk that states, “The special town meeting does not have the authority to create the ordinance. Under the Charter, only the BOS can create such an ordinance, thus, if passed by the special town meeting this would be a recommendation to the BOS which they can act on or not.”
Michael said he understood that this meeting would not necessarily result in an ordinance but believes that the hearing is indeed the way to achieve the Bethel Action Committee’s goal of better communication between the town and it’s residents.
“We are hoping to have a super majority at the meeting," Michael said, "and to pass a resolution that will compel the selectmen. We want them to enact an ordinance to stop the targeting of certain voting block notifications to the exclusion of other voters.”
Michael’s reference to the voting block refers to Bethel School Superintendent Gary Chesley, who was reprimanded for using the school newsletters to promote the school’s agenda at the polls. McCorkindale said she filed the complaint to validate a "sense of discomfort" that Chesley had used town resources to communicate political information to "select groups of taxpayers."
Since then, Michaels said he would like to see a town-wide notification system using postal mail.
First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker does not believe that sending postcards is an efficient way to reach the town’s residents. Instead, he would like to see more people in the town subscribe to the Bethel Public Schools weekly newsletter. “The Board of Education sends out a notice that says a referendum will be at a certain date and time. It’s basic information. Their system is available to everyone. Every single citizen in Bethel can subscribe to that, they don’t have to be parents or have children in the school system.”
“To repeat that notice through the US Mail will cost $5,000-$8,000. If we had three referendums, we would have to do it three times. I am not in favor of any law that triggers automatic spending or that reduces communication to the public. People want more communication, not less,” Knickerbocker said.
The First Selectman said that residents will be notified of upcoming referendums through several well-placed sandwich board signs, notices in Patch and other media outlets, and the schools may send out a robocall regarding the time and place.