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SECRECY in Bethel, Post-Election, is at an All-Time High: Bethel Chamber of Commerce is Closed and Mum, Director ‘Parted Ways’ and No Info. on Winterfest or Display Lottery Selection. What is Going on?

Report by Paula Antolini, November 8, 2019, 8:25AM EDT

Sign on Bethel Chamber of Commerce front door,
184 Greenwood Avenue, Bethel, CT, on November 7, 2019.

OPINION

Post-election day, secrecy abounds in Bethel Connecticut.

The Bethel Chamber of Commerce is CLOSED and without explanation. No word from Executive Director Bradley (Brad) Koltz, who was hired in August 2018. Why the secrecy?

We also have very little official information on the upcoming chamber event, the Bethel Winterfest, which is 21 days away. Why no official information?

On other issues, we also have no information about the religious display lottery/selection for the 5 religious display applications (5 applications confirmed) that were submitted to Bethel by the November 1, 2019 deadline. What is going on?

Photo shows “CLOSED” sign on the Bethel Chamber of Commerce
front door, November 7, 2019. Also see other photo of close-up
of the sign, heading this article.

A sign posted on the front door of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce presently reads, “The Chamber of Commerce is currently closed. If you need immediate assistance please stop in and speak with Kim at the Toy Room next door.”

The BETHEL ADVOCATE spoke to Kimberly Ramsey twice this week, who is owner of the Toy Room and also a member of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce Executive Board, and she said she is not at liberty to give us any information about the Bethel Chamber of Commerce or its director. But today, when asked, she did say there is PRESENTLY NO CHAMBER DIRECTOR at the Bethel Chamber of Commerce.

So what happened? Chamber officials are not talking.

Ramsey did say that chamber board members Pat Rist (of the Bethel Historical Society), Mohammed Shilleh (of Royal Choice Global Transportation) and herself, Kimberly Ramsey (of the Toy Room) are handling the details for the November 29th “Winterfest.”

We also tried reaching out to the Bethel Chamber of Commerce present Chairman of the Executive Board, Kristen Keil, at her place of business People’s United Bank this week, and for several days in a row we were told she is not in the office, that she roams to several branches, and they do not know which branch she is in at moment. Messages left for her went unanswered.

We contacted First Selectman Knickerbocker after 9:00am on November 7, 2019, via phone, asking him to comment on three issues. Dionne Craig said he was “in a meeting” and took our message. We also left a text message asking him to call when he could. Knickerbocker would only answer us in a text, despite us asking him to return our call, at first saying, “Yes I’m busy at the moment with something, can it wait about 15 minutes?” We said, “Yes,” and asked him to give us a call when he had the time. He then texted at 12:50pm, “Have not had a minute, what’s the topic?”

On the first issue, when we asked Knickerbocker to tell us what the status was of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, and if he could confirm why the chamber is presently closed, and also questions about Executive Director, Bradley (Brad) Koltz (who has not posting anything on the chamber Facebook page since October 26, 2019, and we are wondering where he is), and Knickerbocker said, “No comment on Chamber of Commerce business.”

On the second issue, we asked Knickerbocker for information as to whether or not the “Winterfest” will take place this year on the day after Thanksgiving, November 29, 2019, as it usually had, and he would only reply in a text, Yes the fest is usually the Friday after Thanksgiving, but that is a chamber event. I do not know what their plans are.”

We know the chamber is a non-profit company but you would think the First Selectman would be concerned about a company that represents Bethel and its businesses and holds numerous networking meetings often, to try and draw in business to Bethel, and also be concerned about one of the largest events enjoyed by residents during the holidays. But no, First Selectman gave no information about the “Winterfest” and the Bethel Chamber of Commerce seems unreachable at the moment.

Should residents be worried?

We finally got an email reply from Bethel of Commerce Executive Director Kristen Keil on Nov. 7th that reads:

“The Chamber, Board and its Executive Director have decided to part ways. The Chamber will continue under the leadership of the dedicated volunteers on the Board of the Directors and the faithful volunteers in our community.  

“The Bethel Chamber of Commerce has been a part of the Bethel Community since 1953. The Mission of the Chamber of Commerce is to support and promote the economic vitality of Bethel by building productive relationships between business owners, local government, and the community.

“We look forward to continuing the mission of the chamber with the support of the community, the town and local businesses.

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Our third question to Knickerbocker was asking when the next Board of Selectman meeting will take place this month since the November 5, 2019 meeting had been canceled. We also asked if the religious display lottery (involving P.T. Barnum Square) would be discussed at that next meeting. This is after we spoke to Eileen Earle at Bethel Parks and Recreation, who confirmed that there were 5 applications submitted, but we needed to speak to the First Selectman about the issue and decisions.

Knickerbocker replied in a text, “The next regular BOS meeting is Nov. 19th, which means we will need to schedule a Special BOS meeting. Not set yet but will need to do that soon.” He said, “That meeting is not set yet.”

So the secrecy continues, as the town officials are permitted to give only 24 hours notice to the public for a “Special Meeting” and apparently they might very well take advantage of that aspect.

On such an important issue that involves the beloved central display of the Nativity, and other displays that might be extremely controversial, why aren’t Bethel residents being told what is happening in a timely manner, so they can plan to attend the BOS meeting and give public input, with sufficient time to plan that?

Why do Bethel residents appear to not be very concerned about the Bethel Chamber of Commerce officials and Bethel government officials not being forthcoming about details that will ultimately affect the welfare of our businesses and community? They just close the doors of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce and say nothing? And the Executive Director Brad Koltz is no longer there?

Why isn’t First Selectman informed and concerned? Why isn’t he trying to research these issues?

Many questions. Get involved. This is your community, your businesses (for owners), and your holiday season!

Demand answers.

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