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Bethel Religious Holiday Display Applications Do Not Require Names of Religious Affiliation for Display

Report by Paula Antolini, November 14, 2019, 2:28PM EDT

If you are tired of the secrecy and misinformation in Bethel here’s a few more for you.

Somewhere in the last year, actually after August 2019, the referring words changed from “Religious Holiday Display” to “Holiday Display” when referring to applications for, or displays to be installed in, P.T. Barnum Square in Bethel, CT. When did this happen and who decided to change it and why?

We had months of meetings by the “Religious Holiday Display Committee” which included members appointed by the selectmen. There were numerous discussions by them and the public about “religious holiday displays on public property.”

Now suddenly it is “Holiday Displays”?

After we witnessed that the Board of Selectmen refused to reveal the religious affiliation of the religious display applicants at the Board of Selectmen meeting this past Tuesday night, November 12, 2019, now we know why. There is a blank space on 3 of the 5 applications where it indicates the applicant list his/her “Name of Organization.”

Only one applicant, Tim Martin, representing the Nativity display, listed “Bethel United Methodist Church” as the affiliation. One applicant, William Hillman, inserted his own name under “organization.” But the other three applicants left the “organization” line blank. Does it seem odd to you that sign permits do not have to indicate affiliation for a religious holiday display?

In fact, there are many other unusual details about these 5 applications.

There seems to be different application forms and the shorter forms do not require the same information as the longer forms do. There are three different types of forms. Two forms read, “BETHEL PARKS & RECREATION – Application for community use of Parks and Recreation OUTDOOR FACILITIES” and one form reads, “Application for community use of Parks and Recreation MUNICIPAL CENTER FACILITIES” and two forms read, “Bethel Board of Selectmen (Drop form to Parks & Rec.) – Application for Holiday Displays” … is this confusing enough for you?

Under “Purpose of Use, Other, Event Name” on page 1 of the application, it appears it is not required to exactly describe the display at all. For example the application submitted by James Naddeo reads, “Banner on PT Barnum Square” as the description, as opposed to a more detailed description last year for an Atheist banner and the application has an display image on the second page but no size indication. Two other NEW applicants have NO DESCRIPTION AT ALL on the application regarding religious affiliation or display sign wording and no organization listed, other than the image on the second page.

And, if there were any attachments to these applications, they were not attached in the meeting minutes of the November 12th Board of Selectmen Special Meeting, as only the first pages of the 5 applications were attached to meeting minutes. Why are the design images and size and other specifications not attached also? We saw two new images at the meeting, however briefly, but we hardly got a look at the designs or specifications on them. We requested those documents from Director Eileen Earle the Parks and Recreation Department and were able to obtain them, view below. These are the second pages to the applications that should have been attached to the meeting minutes. For meeting minutes of the November 12, 2019 Board of Selectmen Special Meeting click here.

One other point about the applications, why is personal information like birthdate, home address, home and cell phone, email address not redacted in meeting minutes application copies ONLINE? So now everyone has the applicant’s personal information? We know residents can obtain this public information by going to a municipal office, but to list the personal information online is putting these individuals at risk. (We are showing a redacted copy below.)

There is also interesting information regarding William Hillman’s application for the Menorah regarding insurance. In a hand-written note on the the application dated July 3, 2019, it reads, “attached part of coverage for manger.” Does this mean he split the cost with the person who submitted the Nativity display, Tim Martin? Or that he is covering a certain part of it? Is this a special arrangement?

We contacted both Tim Martin and William Hillman. We have not heard back from Tim Martin. William Hillman did reply and said, “Insurance is taken care of. It’s handled. Not to worry.” We replied that we were not “worried” we just wanted to obtain the correct information for our article. “Do you not want to answer questions?,” we asked. Hillman replied, “Actually no. I’d prefer not to get into that.” … “I’ve made my arrangements and don’t care to discuss.” … “Thanks for understanding.” … “Please respect my choice not to discuss insurance details.” … “I choose not to discuss. Insurance has been hand[l]ed. I’ve nothing more to comment.”

So are applicants allowed to share insurance costs? Did all applicants know this?

One million dollars of insurance is required by the Town of Bethel for EACH display, Earle said, but since each applicant purchases their own insurance she said she did not know what their cost was.

We also asked Hillman where the Menorah display will be located, since his application indicates, “power near doughboy statue” under “equipment needed” but he was now indicating the display would be placed near the Nativity. He said, “If you’re looking at the Nativity from the doughboy I expect to be to the right and back a little within range of the available electric plugs.”

Bill Hillman originally said, in a Letter to the Editor to BETHEL ADVOCATE on July 30, 2019, that he submitted two applications, one for a Menorah display that he wanted placed near the Nativity, and another for the use of the square on December 22nd for the first night of Hanukkah. But we are only aware of one application for a display from Hillman for a “Public Holiday Menorah at PT Barnum Sq.”

Regarding James Naddeo’s display application for a banner, it simply describes it as “Banner Display on PT Barnum Sq.” with no religious affiliation listed, and event name listed as “N/A.” He has the “dedication date” listed as December 7, 2019.

The other two new applicants are Sherri Axcell with a display that reads, “Happy HumanLight – Reason, Compassion, Hope” and Abigail Hoffman with a display that reads, “Peace.” No display descriptions or organizations listed on the first page of the applications. The line for insurance is not checked off “yes” on Sherri Axcell’s application.

Sizes of displays are:

  • Nativity: 5′ deep X 9′ width X 8′ height, and 12′ wide with trailer in measurement, including the tongue of the trailer, and a railing ion front of the display that adds 2′ to the depth.
  • Menorah: 6′ height X 6 1.2′ wide, weighs 41 pounds.
  • Atheist Banner: no measurement listed.
  • HumanLight Banner: 3′ height X 3′ width.
  • Peace Banner: sign part 4′ height X 6′ width, overall height 7′.

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Regarding the timeframe of installation of displays, we spoke to Director Eileen Earle today who said they are still discussing this and it is up to the applicants as to when they install their displays, yet to be approved. She also was not sure of what date, if any, the Board of Selectmen had set. She did say that the layout of the displays on the triangle property would be spread throughout but no displays will be under the trees up front and none will be any more forward than the displays last year, but that there will be some in those front positions.

The Board of Selectmen did mention possibly moving the tree lighting ceremony to the municipal lawn but have no plans to do that this year because they said there are no funds or time to do it. However this could happen next year, they said, so basically it separates the tree lighting ceremony from the Nativity and other displays. There has been no discussion with residents about this action at meetings or otherwise as far as we know. And since the Bethel Chamber of Commerce is in transition now after the departure of the director, plans are not definite for next year yet.

Here is the breakdown of the information required on multiple applications:

LONG FORM (2 applications):

  • Name of Organization:
  • Individual Submitting Request:
  • Date of Birth:
  • Address/Town/State:
  • Home Phone:
  • Cell #:
  • Email:
  • Purpose of Use (check one) / Other:
  • Is activity open to general public?:
  • Is Admission being charged?:
  • Rental Date Requested:
  • Estimated Attendance:
  • Event Name:
  • Setting up time/time of event/clean up time
  • Location:
  • Attached to this application is: _____ $50.00 non- refundable fee for use of Meckauer Park Pavilion. _____ Rental fee for use of other facilities.
  • SCHEDULE OF EVENTS MUST BE RECEIVED BEFORE APPROVAL OF APPLICATION CERTIFICATE OF LIABILITY INSURANCE in the amount of $1,000,000. Required: Yes _____ / No _____ .
  • I/we have read the policies and regulations promulgated by Bethel Parks & Recreation regarding the community use of the Parks & Recreation facilities and as duly authorized agent for this organization I/we agree to abide by them.
  • Date of Application _____________ Signature of Applicant_______________

SHORT FORM

  • Name of Organization:
  • Individual Submitting Request:
  • Address/Town/State:
  • Home Phone:
  • Cell #:
  • Email:
  • Rental Date Requested:
  • PT Barnum Square [room to check off]
  • Utilities Required: Electricity* (*May not be available): _________ Other: please specify):_________
  • Equipment needed:_________ [This added text only on one application: “Electricity preferred to light the supports.”]
  • SCHEDULE OF EVENTS MUST BE RECEIVED BEFORE APPROVAL OF APPLICATION CERTIFICATE OF LIABILITY INSURANCE in the amount of $1,000,000. Required: Yes _____ / No _____ .
  • I/we have read the policies and regulations promulgated by Bethel Parks & Recreation regarding the community use of the Parks & Recreation facilities and as duly authorized agent for this organization I/we agree to abide by them.
  • Date of Application _____________ Signature of Applicant_______________

VIEW APPLICATIONS BELOW:

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