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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.

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 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 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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