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Town of Bethel Meeting Minutes for Sept. 25th Not on Town Website for Public Viewing within 7-Day Time Frame and This is Legal?

Report by Paula Antolini, October 2, 2019, 9:59AM EDT

Tonight is another Charter Revision Commission (regular) Meeting at 7:00 p.m. tonight, October 2, 2019, in Meeting Room A of the CJH Municipal Center, 1 School Street, Bethel, CT, but the meeting minutes from a week ago were still not posted on the town’s website for the public to view, required to be available for viewing in a minimum of 7 days after the meeting.

ONLY when Bethel Advocate alerted town clerk Lisa Bergh, after 9:30 a.m. this morning, were the meeting minutes suddenly posted.

She said the IT person “missed the email” but would not give us his name. She said all that is required is for the Charter Revision Commission and IT person to have the minutes sent to her office by the required time frame, and she sent us proof that the meeting minutes were sent to her at 4:59PM on September 26, 2019. She said that is all that is needed to conform to the law and that the meeting minutes record was then available to the public from her office.

We spoke to Phyllis Kansky, Human Resources/Grant Administration, at the Bethel Human Resources office, who gave us the name of Nick Catalbo as the person responsible for handing meeting minutes sent to the town clerk. We are presently waiting for a call back from Mr. Catalbo.

Freedom of Information (FOI) Meetings Requirements for Municipal Agencies Under The Freedom of Information Act state that for a regular or special meeting the meeting minutes must be “available to the public no more than 7 days after the meeting.” View FOI chart below.

In this day and age of online technology, is this an acceptable system to make important information available to the public, by requiring residents to personally travel to the Municipal Center in order to obtain documents from the town clerk, or view them on a bulletin board in the lobby, so they can be informed about town meetings and in this case, changes to the Town Charter?

This is not the first time this has happened. We reported on this in the Bethel Advocate article, “Are Bethel CT Residents’ ‘Public Comments’ at Bethel Meetings Recorded Accurately? Or at All?” on July 26, 2019 when “there was an issue with a Board of Selectmen July 16, 2019 meeting agenda that was not posted (meaning for residents to view) in the required-by-law 24-hours ahead of time of when the Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting would occur. This was also concerning an agenda topic that was quite controversial, the “religious displays on public property” topic. Residents were anxious to know if that topic would in fact be included on the next Board of Selectman meeting, which was to be held on July 16, 2019.”

“The BOS agenda paperwork was stamped as received by the town clerk by 3:47PM July 15, 2019, but was never posted to the public. By the morning of July 16th still no BOS agenda notice had been posted in the municipal on the bulletin board or online. Town Clerk Lisa Bergh was out of the office that week and an office person named Josh told us that the agenda paperwork goes to the “IT department” after the clerk’s office but he was not sure what happens after that.”

“The legal requirement was not met in this case. The notice was still not on the bulletin board by the morning of July 16, 2019 and onward. Doors to the municipal building are also locked at night so how can residents see notices, especially residents who do not use computers to obtain information?”

“So far, things remain as-is regarding recording public comments and agendas notifications. You need to view notices on a bulletin board in the lobby of the municipal unless a board, commission or committee member decides to digitally post it online or elsewhere.”

“People need to be informed properly and accurately. It would be advantageous to residents if you voiced your opinion about this topic at every local meeting and play a part in changing this system to better meet the needs of residents.”

TONIGHT IS THE CHARTER REVISION COMMISSION MEETING and they are allowing public comment. Please consider attending and letting your voice be heard.

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