Updated 4/1/2020 - On March 14th, Governor Lamont issued an executive order, effective that day, to allow public business to continue safely and still to enable public input and public awareness during the COVID crisis. It specifically requires that: 1) boards hold meetings remotely by conference call, video conference, or other technology, 2) the public have the ability to view or listen to each meeting or proceeding in real time, 3) the meeting be recorded or transcribed and it be posted on the agency website within 7 days of the meeting, 4) notice of the meeting be posted on the agency website and include how the public may access it, 5) any materials relevant to the meeting be posted online at least 24 hours prior to the meeting and 6) all speakers taking part in the meeting identify themselves each time that time they speak.
As the accompanying chart shows, Bethel boards and committees have held multiple meetings in direct violation of the Governor's executive order.
"Who is minding the store? This should not be happening," said Board of Finance member Cynthia McCorkindale.
In the case of the Board of Assessment Appeals, two of their three meetings required that citizens requesting an appeal appear in-person, in direct violation of the executive order, and those who did not appear in person were denied their appeal.
"I obviously wasn't going to come in and jeopardize my health.," said one appellant, who asked to remain anonymous.
The in-person meeting of 3/21 did not appear on the Town online meeting calendar and appears to not comply with either the state or Town's open meeting rules or the Governor's Executive Order. Board of Assessment Appeals Chair Gary Passineau has not responded to a request for comment.
Comments by Mr. Knickerbocker on social media seemed to suggest that compliance with the Governor's Executive Order was optional.
The Community Gazette reached out to the Governor's office and they shared this comment: "Government entities can still meet in person, however they are strongly encouraged to hold meetings remotely. That being said, wherever they meet and however they meet, they are still required to follow open meeting laws, as amended by Executive Order No. 7B, providing for public access to such meetings. If an entity is not permitting the public to attend in person during this public health emergency, Governor Lamont's executive order requires them to provide a way for the public to participate using remote technology, and to also publish meeting materials online, record the entire meeting except for any executive session, and publish the recording online."
We also confirmed that meetings in a locked building do not qualify as open to the public unless they have remote access.
Regarding in-person Tax Appeals, they said "Under the governor's emergency orders, municipal tax hearings and appeal appointments are not required to be in person."