All or Nothing Petition Hearing Tonight

Billy Michael calls for new town ordinance



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.

Barbara Nelson April 24, 2012 at 02:42 PM
People who say this is going to cost money just don't get the point of the ordinance. The point is that those who want to take a political position and notify their targeted groups will choose NOT to do it, and leave that task to privately-funded political action committees, where it rightfully belongs. This has absolutely nothing to do with costing more money. I guess you are so used to the current practice that you don't remember what it was like before Gary Chesley decided to turn school communications into a political megaphone. This ordinance will make them think twice before they click "send."
Barbara Nelson April 24, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Will you be spearheading the drive that provides computers and training for those who don't have them? Or providing the transportation to get them to the library or Internet cafe so they can sign up? Or maybe you'll print them from your own computer and then sponsor a search for the ones who do not have the technology and use your own stamps to mail it out to them? Believe it or not, not every person has the same access as you do. What does this ordinance have to do with "me me me?" It's really more like "us us us."
Matthew Knickerbocker April 24, 2012 at 03:23 PM
The Patch did not accurately report my comments. I DID NOT say that sending post cards is an inefficient means of communicating with all residents. It certainly is. But I am not in favor of passing an ordinance that triggers by law an automatic expenditure of public funds in this manner.
Bob April 24, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Why do we need another ordinance. The one in place appears to have worked, i.e., Bethel School Superintendent Gary Chesley was reprimanded for using the school newsletters to promote the school’s agenda at the polls. Why is yet another ordinance, one that triggers the automatic expenditure of money, needed?
Karl April 24, 2012 at 03:42 PM
The ordinance needs to specify that the funds for the mailing come from the department sending the newsletter. The town side should not have to pay for the school side's decisions. And reading the newsletter takes time. As anyone who works and is not on salary knows, time is money. While some residents with children in the schools read the newsletter from cover to cover now, there are many residents who do not have children that attend Bethel's public schools Forcing people to read the entire school newsletter every time it comes out so that they can get an occasional notice of a budget meeting wastes their time. And the money that this wasted time equals is probably significantly more than the $5000 or so that the mailings are estimated to cost.
JSM April 24, 2012 at 04:16 PM
The school newsletter is weekly - the referendums they say are 3 - 4 times a year. We have to read 10 months of newsletters to find the needle in the haystack? Also what about the summer months when the newsletters are not published?
Barbara Nelson April 24, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Mr. Knickerbocker, you seem to not really grasp the concept of the ordinance. It won't "trigger" anything. It will just make you think twice before you send out materials to your exclusive mailing lists that takes a stand on any taxpayer expenditure issue. It shouldn't be that difficult to refrain from that, should it? If you choose to do it anyway, then it will be YOU who triggers the All or None Public Alert. In no way would it be "automatic."
Barbara Nelson April 24, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Exactly! It will be a hunting expedition - that is, of course, after you manage to sign up for the newsletter. The First Selectman wants to make it incumbent on the taxpayer to chase down the information.
Barbara Nelson April 24, 2012 at 04:55 PM
The word "trigger" seems to be very popular today. The only "trigger" here would be a Town Official or Employee's hand on the mouse. If they choose to send out the information to their select few, then they would need to follow it up with a mailing to the town. It's entirely their choice to do it or not.
Barbara Nelson April 24, 2012 at 05:20 PM
The time period is actually not protected by SEEC. Statute §9-369b prohibits the use of public resources to distribute advocacy materials during a pending referendum. The All or None Public Alert has to do with any notifications sent by Town Agencies during this time be period being sent to ALL Bethel postal patrons. What you are citing does not pertain to the goal of the All or None Public Alert ordinance, which has nothing to do with advocacy.
Barbara Nelson April 24, 2012 at 05:22 PM
My comments were reversed. This comment is a reply to your second comment. Yes, it's better if NO town agency or official takes on the task of voter notification and leaves that to privately-funded political action committees, where it belongs.
Christine Rose (Editor) April 24, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Inefficient was in regards to the cost, not in regards to reaching people. My apologies for the misunderstanding.
Barbara Nelson April 24, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Referring to your last comment: <<I would argue that a simple announcement of the fact, ie: "There will be a budget vote tomorrow morning. the polls are open from 6AM to 8PM" as a simple statement of fact becomes advocacy when directed in a target emailing to people most likely to vote a particular way.>> I agree with you 100%. My point is that the Town needs to get out of politics altogether and the School needs to report on school activities and leave the notification to the political action committees. With an ordinance in place, if they decide to use their megaphone to disseminate any materials to only "some" then they will have to send to "all." Obviously, based on past experience, they cannot be trusted to just do the right thing. It seems that it's easier for them to ask forgiveness than permission, and they continue to do it. For example, the School eNewsletter that offered babysitting for parents attending the Town Budget Hearing - the perfect example of defacto advocacy. What does babysitting have to do with a school club whose putative focus is academic achievement? Nothing. No one seems to see the line of demarcation here. Hence, the hullabaloo.
Barbara Nelson April 24, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Yes, it would be very irresponsible for them to defy the ordinance. If they stay within their scope, it will cost them zero.
Thomas Peters April 24, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Thomas Peters April 24, 2012 at 09:49 PM
We should all be warned of up coming meetings. The uninformed allow the incompetent and over aggresive to come to power.
SmallMinds April 25, 2012 at 12:04 AM
Yeah! Tommy has a good point! The over aggresive are coming to power! And people in uniforms are allowing it!
MensaMind April 25, 2012 at 01:50 AM
"uniforms vs uninformed", that almost qualifies as a pun, but not quite. Better luck next time.
BOB CRNIC April 25, 2012 at 05:11 AM
The point of all this is that our local government should not use TAXPAYER money (public funds) to alert or incite special interest groups who support a spending proposal or budget to vote or come to the polls at the exclusion of other taxpayers who may not share their spending sentiments. In other words, if I'm opposed to a particular spending plan, I do not want my tax money being used to promote a position I'm opposed to. Using public funds to communicate with parents on educational issues and event information has been a long accepted practice. They cross the line when they use public funds to target those same parents to support spending initiatives and town-wide budgets that affect all taxpayers not just the school lobbies.
BOB CRNIC April 25, 2012 at 05:14 AM
The simple solution to this madness is to send out a town-wide robocall to alert all taxpayers on upcoming budget referendums as they do during weather emergencies. The costs is nominal and communicatesthe same information to all equally without prejudice.
SmallMinds April 25, 2012 at 10:38 AM
The much more simpler simple solution is to vote Burke/Crnic in the upcoming (in 18 months) election.
BOB CRNIC April 25, 2012 at 12:15 PM
That solution would be too easy and too much common sense. Unfortunately, easy is not part of Bethel's political vocabulary. Taking the path of most resistance to appease special interest groups is the usual modus operandis. One cannot govern effectively or fairly in this or any town when they're constantly concerned or reminded to not upset their friend, neighbor, fellow party member, parishioner, family member or work mate. It's impossible to govern in the best interests of "Bethel" when doing so would not serve the "best interests" of someone you know all too well.
Barbara Nelson April 25, 2012 at 06:41 PM
People should understand that the drive to enact the All or None Public Alert Ordinance is simply to insure that all voters have equal access to any information that involves taxpayer expenditures. It is NOT an attempt to quash anyone's First Amendment rights nor does it threaten the Superintendent's eNewsletter. Notifications and reminders are NOT the responsibility or purpose of Town Officials or School Employees. This task should be put back into the hands of PRIVATELY-FUNDED political action committees, which are comprised of people who believe a certain way and support a position, and use THEIR OWN MONEY and RESOURCES to advertise that point of view. I do not want the Superintendent using equipment paid for with MY TAX DOLLARS to inform a SEGMENT of the Bethel residents to come out to a meeting or get out the vote. If they feel that they simply MUST do it, then they need to send it to ALL Bethel Postal Patrons. This is not an emotional issue. It is the fair and democratic way. At the moment, Bethel does not operate in a democracy. There are those who receive special information at the EXCLUSION of others who have an unfair advantage to those of use who do not have the technology or wherewithall to sign up for a School Newsletter. I hope that the results of last night's meeting will show that this resolution has teeth and should be seriously considered to ensure the integrity of our town.
SmallMinds April 25, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Barbara's right. If the town notifies anyone it can notify everyone. More voter participation is better.
Bill Hillman April 25, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Good lord, small, we agree on something.
bethelmom April 27, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Can someone cite the words for me that were sent out by the town or school system telling people how to vote on the budget? I have only seen information on when the vote will be. People mentioned above that stands were taken on political issues and I would like to know specifically what was said. But I'd like to read the words that were said exactly, not an individual's paraphrasing.
Christine Rose (Editor) April 27, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Here is a copy of the email from Dr. Smith. This is it in it's entirety. Dear Parents, Caregivers and Staff: Please be advised that the location of tonight's Special Town Meeting addressing the "all or nothing" ordinance proposal has been changed to the Municipal Center's Senior Center Cafe. The time is still scheduled for 7:30pm. I know a number of you are planning on attending; all residents are encouraged to attend this meeting. The Town Meeting to address the Budget is scheduled for May 7th at 7:30pm at Bethel High School. All residents are strongly encouraged to attend this meeting as well. Warm Regards, Kevin Smith Kevin J. Smith, Ph.D. Superintendent of Schools Bethel Public Schools P.O. Box 253 Bethel, CT 06801
Barbara Nelson April 27, 2012 at 06:05 PM
That's a great question. The All or None Public Alert is an Ordinance that refers simply to notification, and not to any position taken. Unfortunately there are some, like Mr. Craybas, who incorrectly stated at the Special Town Meeting that this policy was already covered by Connecticut State Statute §9-369b. Actually it is not. The STATE Statute prohibits the use of Town resources to advocate a POSITION during a referendum, which is, for example, what Superintendent Chesley did last year and was actually found in violation of the Statute by the State Election Enforcement Commission. The All or None Public Alert Ordinance mandates that, if any Town agency decide to use taxpayer-funded resources to simply NOTIFY or REMIND voters during a referendum, that they extend that communication to ALL Bethel taxpayers - and not just their internal mailing list - in the interest of fairness and equality for all. It boils down to this. If the Town agencies refrain from using town resources to initiate any communication regarding an upcoming referendum, it will cost the Town nothing. However, if they choose to send out reminders and notifications, then they will be required to send the same communication to ALL Bethel U.S. postal patrons. The hope is that Town agencies will wisely choose to leave all notifications and voter reminders in the hands of privately-funded political action committees and keep to their respective duties that have nothing to do with politics!
Barbara Nelson April 27, 2012 at 06:12 PM
And, btw, if you are a resident and NOT a parent or guardian of a student currently enrolled in the Bethel schools, AND you sign up for the BHS eNewsletter, your information will be subject to FOIA. This means that ANYONE can request the names of those on the mailing list who are not currently parents/guardians of a student. Once obtained, that portion of the mailing list can be disseminated throughout the Internet, placed on additional mailing lists ANYWHERE on the Internet. You would then be susceptible not only to spamming, but your information would be available to anyone. You would not have the same protection enjoyed by parents/guardians of the School mailing list. This is a very good counter-argument to those who say, "Why not just sign up for the School eNewsletter? It's open to anyone to join." Yes, but not ALL are protected from their information being shared.
Christine Rose (Editor) May 01, 2012 at 01:51 PM
ALL can receive the newsletters on Patch, without worrying about their email address being subjected to FOI.


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