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Bethel’s ‘Religious Displays Committee’ Was Never ‘Officially Appointed’ by the Bethel Board of Selectmen, or Sworn In, as Per Legal Procedures

Report by Paula Antolini, May 2, 2019, 7:19AM EDT

Early in the afternoon on May 1st the members of the recently (thought to be) appointed Bethel “Religious Displays Committee” found out the committee does not legally exist after receiving an email from First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker’s office administrator, Dionne Craig, telling them they had to come into the office to be sworn in. The Religious Displays Committee had not been “appointed officially by the Board of Selectmen” even after holding two meetings in the past months, the first of which Knickerbocker attended.

Craig’s email to committee members, under the subject heading “Swearing in,” dated May 1, 2019, 2:05PM, reads:

“Hi Everyone

“Sorry to miss the meeting last week.  I have everyone’s email and phone number, please respond back to this email with you address.  Also, at your earliest convenience and before the next meeting, stop by the Town Clerk’s office to be sworn in.  It will only take a minute.

“Thanks

“Dionne”

The only problem is, Town Clerk Lisa Bergh knew nothing about the Religious Display Committee’s existence and as soon as she found out members had been directed to go to her office, she sent the following email out to committee members about two hours after Craig’s email.

Bergh’s email, under the subject heading “Swearing in,” dated May 1, 2019, 4:14PM, reads:

Good Afternoon All-

“Technically you have not been appointed officially by the Board of Selectmen as of yet, therefore please refrain from coming in to my office to be sworn in.

“It is my understanding that this will be done at the next Board of Selectmen’s meeting. You will be notified at that point to be sworn in.

“Thank you,

“Lisa Bergh”

Apparently it took two committee meetings to realize that the Religious Displays Committee was not “officially appointed.” The first meeting was on March 14, 2019, which First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker attended, and the second meeting was on April 25, 2019 and both meetings took place in Room A of the Bethel CJH Municipal Center at 7:00 p.m.. The next Religious Displays Committee meeting is planned for June 6, 2019 but members need to be approved by the Board of Selectmen (BOS) and sworn in before then. The next BOS meeting is on May 7th at 7:00 p.m. in Room A of the Bethel CJH Municipal Center. No meeting agenda is published yet.

The Religious Displays Committee was formed after the controversy about the installation of an Atheist sign near the Nativity display in P.T. Barnum Square in December 2018. The committee was charged with making recommendations regarding future displays.

Members of the Religious Displays Committee are: Aaron Vincent, Danielle Monroe, Diana Naddeo, Pat Daubert, Sarah Courteau, Holly Heslin, Frances Pulle, Robin Dowding, Anthony Orrico, Mary Shepheard and Tim Martin.

According to one committee member, some of the members on the committee are the very same individuals who were involved in the controversy in 2018 in some way, organizing and/or installing the religious displays, or had relatives involved in the display applications to the town, or had strong opinions about whether or not to allow religious displays on town property and then voiced those opinions at town meetings. Perhaps this is why there seemed to be a continuation of the heated dispute at the second committee meeting when those same controversial discussions repeated and opinions were drastically split once more between these same individuals and nothing got accomplished but bickering, one committee member reports.

Why weren’t people chosen for the committee that were not directly involved in the dispute? “Was there a sufficient number of applicants from which to choose the members for the committee?” Pulle said.

The usual format that is supposed to be followed when forming a committee is that after the individuals are chosen, voted upon and approved by the Board of Selectman, the committee members then receive a letter confirming they are on the committee. Next, they are sworn in by the Town Clerk before any meetings begin. This was not done.

How did this happen? How did this fall through the cracks in plain sight, even with First Selectman Knickerbocker attending one of the meetings? Shouldn’t he have realized the Board of Selectman never approved the members or sent out confirmation letters? Who is at fault?

We messaged First Selectman Knickerbocker and he said he will reply in the morning. We will update this article as more information is received.

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