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.”