Voters Said: Old Town Hall Is Coming Down!

Voters made their position known with a solid three to one margin.


Tuesday's referendum was the end of a decade long discussion on whether or not to save the Old Town Hall. The 1680 to 535 vote overwhelmingly supported the Board of Selectmen’s decision to take down the building by a 3 to 1 margin.  Town Clerk Lisa Bergh said, “This was a huge message!”

Billy Michael, chairman of the Bethel Action Committee, said that while he was disappointed in the outcome of the vote, he was pleased that no government money was used to contact one group over another, at the tax payer’s expense.  “I was shocked at the margin of passage, and disappointed with turnout. But I was ecstatic that the All or None was adhered to perfectly,” he said.

when residents voted that no special interest groups that received funding from town government could use emails or other forms of solicitation to urge voters to support their own agenda.

Whether it was due to that meeting or not, as debated by First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker, postcard alerts were sent to every home, which ensured that all town residents were aware of Tuesday’s referendum.

The referendum itself was the result of a petition drive by the Bethel Action Committee led by Michael, who was able to acquire the necessary five percent of votes necessary to force a referendum.  Bill Hillman, Bethel resident who is currently on the Charter Revision Committee, said that in his opinion, the number needs to be raised to 10 percent.

 “In order to override the Board of Selectmen or a Town Meeting, the number should be higher.  Other towns have a higher bar than five percent,” Hillman said.

All of the selectmen were present at the polls when the numbers were announced.  “I am just so grateful for the support of the voters,”  First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker said.  

Another of the town’s Board of Selectmen, Paul Szatkowski, said, “This proves the Board of Selectmen read the public correctly. We knew all along the residents wanted to take the building down.  We wasted $8,000 of town money.  It wasn’t necessary.”

The central debate of whether or not to keep the Old Town Hall building was based on a need for library parking versus renovating the building to sell with the possiblility of the town receiving a tax benefit. The BOS insisted the building was worthless, and the voters appeared to agree.

“The voice of the people has been heard,” said Kitty Grant, from the Planning and Zoning Commission.  “They voted overwhelmingly to take the building down.” 

Registrar of Voters Deputy Joan Reynolds, who had been sitting in the gymnasium of the Municipal Center since 5:30 a.m., said that she was impressed with the turnout, especially on a day of nearly 100 degree weather.  “There is nothing worse than apathy,” she said. “And none was seen at the polls today.”

Peter Samardak July 18, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Bottom line, the people have chosen. Everyone had the opportunity to chose. Lets move on.
justme July 19, 2012 at 06:49 PM
It's over and all the people who voted to overturn need to let it go. Stop crying and lets start working. And whoever filed the objection to slow the process down needs to grow up. It's history, it's over, it's done.
Mary Ann Kulla July 20, 2012 at 04:46 PM
I think $8,000 is a small price to pay for free speech. There were obviously people who questioned the decision to tear down a building that could be repaired and rented. The current town budget is in excess of $50,000,000, so $8k is 0.00016% of that! Big deal.
Bill Hillman July 20, 2012 at 05:37 PM
@Mary, They could have petitioned for a special town meeting to review this, and not cost 8000, which was a total waste. Same 5% requirement. In fact, buying or selling a property, according to the charter, does NOT require a machine vote, only a special town meeting. We had voted, by machine, when the current charter was approved NOT to include demolition of a property as one of those things needing either a vote or a town meeting. we already decided with that vote to delegate that authority to the BOS. The petitioners took the most expensive option, and I'm told got some 600 signatures or so after 2000 door knocking attempts... about the same 3 to 1 hit rate as the NO vote. So let me ask, can we use the funds that were earmarked for meals on wheels to pay for this vote? Should be no big deal as you suggest. and no, if you read the information, the building could not have been repaired, rented or otherwise used in any economic way and get a c of o.
Crusader Rabbit July 20, 2012 at 06:38 PM
When were they worth listening to?


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