Selectboard Special Meeting Notes – Representative Town Meeting 2020 Details

selectboard july 28 2020

The Brattleboro Selectboard discussed and pretty much decided on a way to hold Representative Town Meeting. It will be a 26 hour Zoom meeting. Well, perhaps not 26 hours, but there are concerns. They’ll make the meeting style and dates official at their next regular meeting.

Comments | 3

  • Preliminaries

    It’s 6:24 and no meeting yet. Ahh, here they all come.

    Tim Wessel – sorry for the late executive session. Welcome to the meeting. One item on the agenda tonight – representative town meeting. I have a brace new world covid-19 …. I got into a conversation with Chris Grotke of iBrattleboro that pointed out that we can copy and paste these chat logs of the meetings. The chat isn’t seen by anyone on BCTV, and not seen if someone watches later, however, there is a way to copy and paste and a way to do that directly through goto meeting. We’ve discovered it and we’ll treat it as part of the public record. We’ll print it out and have it as a PDF if requested, similar to backup materials. So, a weird little bit of procedural business there.

    Town Manager Elwell – no remarks…

    Brandie Starr – can you hear me? This evening, we will be burying our 8 month old kitten who was hit by a fast car on Green Street. It’s used as a race to get to Elliot Street. There are children, dogs being walked, cats, families, the YMCA summer camp drop off at the school, so I’d implore people to suck up the 30 seconds you might lose and not sue this as you personal racetrack. I’ve had to jump into the grass, walls shake, motorcycles revving, and I’ll find a way to petition to get speed bumps like at Living Memorial Park. Little kids are riding scooters… they killed our cat, we’re going to buy it today because someone used Green St as a speed ramp.

    Wessel – sorry about that Brandie…

    Daniel Quipp – I’m on the traffic safety committee and want this on the next agenda. I have concerns where I live as well near a school. Another comment, about Everyone Eats – a food relief program to serve people in Brattleboro area if food security is an issue. 150 meals a day will be available til Aug 27 – don’t need to sign up or prove eligibility. Go online and search for everyone eats brattleboro.

    Ian Goodnow – also sorry, Brandie. On a brighter note, I’ve been announcing primary info and absentee ballot requests. We’re getting to the time when mailing for the primary may be late. There is a box in the municipal center parking lot that says “Ballots Here” and it gets checked all the time. Take you ballot and drop it in that box, to make sure the ballot gets counted, and the instructions are very clear about how to fill out the ballot. Please read carefully and complete the instructions. Do it right, or it won’t be counted.

    Wessel – that includes returning the other ballot(s). Other board comments? Public participation is next….

    Public –

    Rikki Risatti –

    Tim – are you with us? While Rikki is working on that, is anyone on the phone? No? Brandie, sort of… Rikki?

    Rikki –

    Elwell -the mic is open

    Tim – I want to reiterate the only order of business tonight is discussion of RTM. If we can’t get Rikki we may have to move on. Mary Casey?

    Mary – Can you hear me?

    Tim – yes

    Mary – mic says I’m unmuted.

    Tim – we hear you right now, and Rikki is ready…

    Mary – at last week’s meeting, for a good part, when you called in, you got a very rapid busy signal. So, there may be an issue if you participate by phone.

    Tim – the phone is the least optimal, but staff will look into that.

    mary – I have two RTM members tonight, so keep that in mind for voting. If we use one device. One could do it by phone and one could be in this meeting. There may be an issue if many try to use the phone.

    Elwell – that’s an important input. We’ll be discussing that, and we’ll check on what happened with he phone.

    Tim – Rikki? Are you dialed in on two devices? Rikki?

    Rikki –

    Tim – we can’t hear you.

    Daniel – maybe write the comment in the chat?

    Tim – good suggestion. Rikki – type it out?

    Rikki – can you hear me? I can hear you. I called the realtors selling the place on … Main Street and want to turn it into a….

    Daniel – Rikki says – i called the realtors at 17 south main – can it be turned into a park.” I know that property – it needs some TLC on the right side? “It has been for sale for 2 years and needs to be torn down, it isn’t livable.”

    Tim – I know the property and would be in agreement that it needs to be turned down, but we aren’t on the market for such a property.

    Liz – let’s have town manager look into it.

    Elwell – will do.

    Ian – on right up the hill on south main…

    Tim – thank you Rikki.

  • Representative Town Meeting

    Elwell – I’m going to take a few moments to remind us how we got where we are. Important to consider. The steps we’ve gone through, we hope – 6 of us working on this – Jan Anderson, Lawrin Crispe, myself, Bob Fisher, Hilary Francis, and Patrick Moreland. The story begins in March when COVID arrived, we had just and the informational meeting. Two days later, the state of emergency in VT began and the middle of the next week, everything was shut down. We came up a few days short of having a normal meeting, in one room on March 21. Impossible and cancelled. In April we were figuring things out. In May it was more of the same, but got out a bit more and started to think about RTM. There was a selectboard meeting early June to lay out ways to hold a meeting. I focused on was the “pods” method, which is pretty much rejected. At that time, we looked at what it would take to hold RTM in different ways, there would be some aspects of what is rich and robust in these meetings… pros and cons that we saw for each and focus to the conversation. Pods was a way to meet in small groups and connect by BCTV. That’s been rejected. It was a question in the survey, because it is a potential way, but it fails – it requires technological investment and skill and requires people to meet in groups up to 25. It doesn’t work. Electronic meetings have pitfalls – people can struggle with connectivity, or the platform can be interrupted. That is a risk. We’ll have up to 149 people participating in the meeting. So we did more research and came back to recommend a two part meeting – a session to discuss, then voting by Australian ballot. When we brought that back, there was renewed interest in an all-online meeting. The ballot method means that every member of the meeting can cast a vote. Not tech issues. We like that a lot. No opportunity to amend, and there is always robust discussion and people usually offer amendments. It is a drawback, but to preserve the ability of everyone to vote we suggested the two part method. The feedback we got was to survey RTM members about their ability to participate. The results were very helpful. In this continued evolutionary process, we are recommending that you can have a full online meeting on Zoom if you are tolerant of risks. Zoom allows for a hand raising feature. The chat room way is hard to manage and this should be easier. It’s really clear who is asking to speak. In addition, for voting in an orderly manner, there is a yes/no voting feature. To vote on an article, lawton could call a question and have members click yes or no on their Zoom controls. The tally is automatic for the meeting organizer. It will be efficient. One thing we haven’t worked out is in a meeting when some can vote and others can observe, it will be important that we can identify the representatives’ votes. We can address it. Our collective opinion is we don’t have all the answers, but we have a hard deadline and feel confident that if you like this we can address anything that needs to be addressed. Fully online and no Australian ballots for voting. Full debate would be preserved. Amendments can be voted on. There are risks. There could be technical issues. You need to besatistfied that the risks are tolerable. The survey results show that it reflects the majority desire and the collective capacity – we asked if people would do the pods-style meeting and got no’s. We got no’s for australian ballots. We didn’t ask about online specifically, but most people have the ability and equipment and connectivity. Moreover, because of the non-anonymous way we did the survey – we know the 16 members who said they need help with using or getting equipment. We have 16 out of 138…. we got 133 responses out fo 138. Unheard of response rate. Very helpful. WE know what each of the 16 needs to participate. We have some anxiety about this platform for a big meeting and the manner in which things could go wrong, we aren’t concerned about individuals being isolated from RTM. We can address the needs. We lay that all out and recommend that we come back a week from now to warn a meeting for Sept 12. If you prefer the split method with the australian ballot, then tell us and we’ll be prepared to do it that way. We do think that these are the two choices that remain, and we recommend Zoom.

    Tim – excellent summary. Thanks for the memo and everyone working on this. I think it would be efficient to follow our pattern of letting the board kick it around a bit, then go to the public.

    Ian -I have a responsibility to thank the six. I was a vocal board member that wanted a survey done, and I commend you for acting quickly and doing a good job. Impressed and happy to see the response rate. This is the time where we should take a moment to get as much information as we can to uphold the democratic principles this town was founded on, and we’ve done that now. I appreciate the work put into this and other reps appreciate it.

    Elizabeth McLoughlin – Pterosaur’s, you did a great job of allaying my fears. My only remaining risk is town wide connectivity. I was on a big call with BDCC early on.. do we all have experience locally with everyone able to manage a call that size and stay connected?

    Elwell – I can’t speak to entirely local experience, but I’m not concerned about it. This platform can have up to 250 on it at a time. Connectivity will be individual issues, not the system failing. We’re concerned the system might have surprises, such as the integrity of the voting being maintained. We believe there will be answers to this, and the community is helping su with this. More procedural issues that might cause a breakdown – that’s what we are concerned about, not it falling apart do to connectivity. Individuals might have connectivity issues. I left out something super important… I’d like to speak to what Mary Casey brought up. It came up tonight.

    Daniel Quipp – I want to echo the thanks for the work that has gone into this. My concern is about the length of the meeting. WE’ve had some long online meetings lately – 5-6 hours is pretty hard on the body and mind. Is it anyway conceivable could it be held over two days rather than one?

    Elwell – it is possible. It would have to be warned properly. It could be a saturday and sunday or two saturdays. If you want a two day meeting.

    Liz – I’ll wait…

    Brandie – thank you for all the work. There are 133 who responded? Do the 5 who didn’t reply have even greater issues? Or were they out of town? Should we reach out to them and find out? It would be nice to get 100%. 133 is great. Back when distant learning started, they tried break out groups…

    Elwell – Zoom allows for multiple rooms. Often used in mediation these days. Parties can be in different rooms. Not sure it solves our problems, and we can get into the details. W don’t think different rooms is necessarily the solution but we’re still looking at. The question about the other 5 members… really important. We should go see them and we need to find out how they lean. The reason it didn’t occur, there was an exhaustive effort made by Sue Fillion and planning who helped with this. They offered and followed through with follow ups when people didn’t get back to us. Everyone who didn’t respond was individually contacted. Some people don’t have an email address. We contacted directly and sometimes handed them a survey. In other cases, the staff called and asked questions over the phone. The one final step to reach out to the five we didn’t;t hear from is absolutely something we should do.

    Liz – I remember the informational session as something I used a lot of hand sanitizer for it. It was in March. Would it be a practice, and would it lead to shorter town meeting?

    Elwell – we anticipate holding a practice meeting. Didn’t plan to do an informational meeting again – maybe call it something else. Bob Fisher has some opinions on the technicalities. We’ve held an informational meeting, so we don’t want to duplicate. It can lead to complications. he says we don’t need another since we already held one. We’d do a technical dry run meeting to practice using the technology. Probably not 150, but several dozen might test it.

    Daniel – as a former teacher and someone who did online training – you can’t have too much practice. One other thing… it slipped my mind.

    Brandie -I just want to say philosophically March was so long ago. In a perfect world it would be good to have a refresher informational meeting.

    Daniel – I remember – was the informational meeting recorded? (yes) Could we push that out again and encourage representatives to watch it. Just like distance learning.

    Elwell – perfect – a way to not duplicate. I’ll make a note of it.

    Tim – some learners are written-word learners. I might suggest a transcript of the existing informational meeting.

    Elwell – we can include that, too, with the link.

    Tim – this continues to feel like glass half full – the least bad option. I read through comments of members – many wanted to meet in person, and part of me feels that way, too. Our philosophy is that if one or two are incomfortable, we meet remotely. Many felt the australian ballot was okay this year only, for an emergency. For me, this solution feels like the best one. The people who want to amed and feel like town meeting – this is the only way to do it. I support it.

    Elwell – the Mary Casey issue – it is important – an example of how we might not think of everything. It is something we didn’t think about . There could be multiple members who might plan to share a device. We need to smoke that out and find out who is thinking this. That will defeat the ability of us to use the hand raising and voting tools in a proper way. We can’t have people sharing devices. Two people in the same room with two devices can all be chaos. Partners who are reps will need to be in separate places to not create interference, and not share. There are things like that to identify and solve. Other potential pitfalls…

    Tim – find a way to be on different rooms and networks. My network is fast but the two people use it… the connection needs to be super fast.

    Elwell – it’s a real issue to plan for. One other thing. Got a text about the transcript idea from staff – that was an in-person meeting. Not sure how to get a transcript of a video, Tim?

    Tim – I covert it to audio and send it out. Questions from staff? Should lawton crisps come on, our moderator?

    Lawrin Crispe – I’ve been listening in, and participating, and have been concerned about making this town meeting happen, and make it happen in the most democratic way we possibly could. Our initial recommendation – I liked it because it made sure all elected members would be included in voting. I felt that is an important feature of what we do. That what we do doesn’t discourage participation by elected representatives. Australian ballot means everyone can vote. WE heard your debate at the last meeting, and some concern that people could be heard on the budget this year because it has already been adopted. That’s true, according to Bob Fisher. That’s off the table. However, we’ve looked deeper and did the survey, and I thin a Zoom meeting can be workable. It works fairly well, but… and here is my concern, we saw Rikki Risatti had a problem making a position known. Mary casey had the same issue. They have been denied access, not because they weren’t here, but because of technology . I’ll respect your decision. I would point out that if we have a formal meeting, it will take longer. I’m compelled to follow Roberts Rules. It will be lengthier. Tech issues will slow us down. For what it is worth, what we recommended at the last meeting is a more informal approach that doesn’t require adherence to Roberts Rules. The earlier recommendation eliminates the connectivity problems and does ensure that all elected reps will be included by voting. So, I’m torn. I have a hard time sitting and here and telling you one is better. The legislature uses zoom, but it didn’t go well at first. I’ll respect whatever you decide. It could happen either way. If the formal approach is better, I see no problem eventually working out the glitches, but some will be excluded.

    Tim – I’m in that middle, too. Public?

    Milicent Cooley – thanks again for the work you put into this. Some questions. Lawrin says the budget is off the table due to what’s happened so far. How many articles are left for voting? Question 2 – on technical exclusion I agree it is an issue. There are people available who could help people get prepared in advanced – I’ve taken laptops to people so they can join a meeting. 3. I liked Daniel suggestion about breaking it into two days – but is it possible or practical or feasible to deal with the easy issues first. When I read through in February, some seemed pretty easy – an article about renewing salary for town clerk? For bigger issues we could do them after. A possible suggestion. Then finally,. a comment about reps not being reached. Personally, I’m not sure why but as reps, I feel like we need to be reachable by the public. We represent the town and public and I feel an obligation to be reachable as a rep.

    Elwell – 19 articles – same as before. 18 of the 19 are about the same, and 19 is the budget article that will be about the collection of taxes. The technical assistance piece. Thanks for your team to help with these sorts of things. We’re aware of this and we anticipate that others will help and we could connect you to those who need help. We think we can address equipment needs with loaners from the library. Our greater concern is those who need help function with it. Some in-meeting assistance. We want to connect resources ahead of time, then another group of people would help doing the meeting. A community resourcing issue.

    Tim – consensus and roberts rules…

    Elwell – there is a discretionary decision about ordering the meeting. Condensing all the “easy” items may lead to the meeting being lopsided, especially if it is a two day meeting. All the hard stuff ay once. One day or two day is your decision…

    David Levenbach – Hi. My camera doesn’t like my face, but I’m here. Thanks for the fine survey. I’m sympathetic about the length of the meeting, but if the date is Sept 12. If you do a second Saturday it would be holidays. Mr. Crispe, I’d argue for the zoom approach, otherwise the vote is a fixed voting agenda given by the selectboard. The zoom meeting means we can make amendments. More democratic. I’m gone…

    Rikki –

    Tim – I’ll read it out – “my questions – will anyone motion a meeting time limit of 4 hours max per?” I don’t think so. “Will representatives votes be recorded?”

    Elwell – we’re working on that. Depending on how we sort out counting of votes, we’ll know how the tally goes. We’ve had a good discussion about it and we want ti to be as transparent as possible. When the meeting is on TV normally, you can see members vote. We don’t usually list all the yeas and nays. We may ned up with a way this time to do that. Not that different from usual.

    Tim – unless a division is called… there would be a count.

    Elwell – many would be on voice votes, but not this year. There could be roll call votes.

    Tim – Rikki says “roll call votes preferred”

    Bob Fisher – if you can hear me? yes? Because the meeting is done by Roberts Rules, there would be no way to limit it. If the board had a two day meeting, it could be warned to do that, but it is up to Lawrin to allow people adequate time to speak. If someone wants to motion to cease debate, we have to deal with it. Points of order are different that raising you hand. It takes precedence over just wishing to speak. We’ll look at the alternatives.

    Liz – I thought about time constraints – there isa morning session, then a break, then an afternoon session, then maybe it could go to the next day.

    Tim – that seems more proper.

    Lawrin – I’ve always tried to get the meeting done in one day. You risk excluding people by adjourning or recessing to another day. No matter what you pick, no one anticipated it would flow to another day. If it does flow over, it can’t be stretched out down the road. Needs to be concluded fairly quickly. That would be my concern about a second day not specifically warned.

    Tim – I think it would be great to take a break – til 8:10? Okay… 14 minutes.

  • After the break


    Tim – apologies, everyone. I think… I had a question for Peter. Is Bob still available? (yes) I don’t have a question, but someone might.

    Oscar Heller – Rikki wanted to know if cameras would be required.

    Tim – not a requirement. We’d prefer it, but not a requirement.

    Oscar – my comment – I’d prefer not to do a two day meeting. This agenda looks way less contentious. Nothing looks like along debate. I don’t see anything time consuming. As of the proposal, both aren’t ideal. A 13 hour zoom meeting will be terrible.

    Daniel – a 3 hour zoom meeting is too long. I don’t want to be on one zoom meeting all day. Not even more than 2 hors. We broke for a break, and Tim wanted to tend to his kid. There will be no childcare for people at home. We should say day one is this and day two is this until it gets done. This kind of meeting is very draining and you get glazed over like a donut.

    Oscar – the last thing I want is anyone glazed like a donut, but for me, a single long meeting is less of a convenience than spread over days. An in person meeting that long is uncomfortable. Maybe I can handle this. This doesn’t feel more draining than the in person meeting. The Roberts Rules will be pretty rough.

    Elwell – I checked with Bob – you could warn it for two days, say the 12th and 13th, so that it says it starts on the 12th, and if necessary on the 13th, then the body could decide what they can tolerate. This would explicitly ask to keep a day open for a second session.

    Liz – The only remedy to a shorter meeting is the Australian ballot – we’re either in it, or we are not. The only way to shorten is to have the australian ballot. That’s democracy.

    Brandie – after hearing lawton, I’ve been going back and forth – which is our goal – to make sure everyone can vote, or that there is robust engagement? We cannot accommodate both, so I’m grappling with what is our goal. If it is to get everyone vote it is australian ballot. If we want vibrant conversation, that’s the zoom meeting.

    Ian – two thing, if we do the zoom meeting we should warn it for two days consecutive. I see no reason not to do it, just to give everyone the flexibility if it needs to. Not even a question. To Brandie, it is not just to encourage lively debate to have the zoom – it is so the body has the full ability to do the amendments. The australian ballots would have the conversation. We need to decide and I’m leaning toward the zoom.

    Hilary Francis – In hearing the options, I thin kit is important to warn correctly – we need a quorum so people need to be prepared for it. We need 78 members to vote. Identify the second day in the warning.

    Daniel – I prefer the zoom meeting but want to mitigate the harm. Maybe we could do a poll to find out what second date is preferable to representatives. When do we need to make a hard decision about dates?

    Elwell – yes we can do a poll. I’m not sure we can do it and get results in time for … if you decide tonight you can warn it at next meeting. The warning should be put out in the way we expect it to be, and don’t think… because we have some members who don’t have email, a poll is problematic. For a later action, it is easy. You don’t have a deadline, other than we are almost in August. Sept 26 might be the next available date… it just gets later and later. You can put this off for more info.

    Liz – Lawrin likes to have a long day, or immediately following the next day.

    Elwell – the Saturday prior to the meeting is Labor day. That’s why we focus on the 12th.

    Daniel – we should ask representatives if they’d like 12th and 13th or 12th and 26th?

    Tim – what if we name a date certain but then allow deliberation to be on another night?

    Liz – there’s the quorum issue.

    Hilary – with the calendar – if the meeting didn’t go to the 26th, the 27th is Yom Kippur.

    Bob – an option, you could warn it for saturday the 12th and Monday the 14th or Tuesday the 15th as the continuation. So long it is in the warning is specific about the second day. Getting done in one day is good for quorum…

    Elwell – if warned for 12th and 26th, is it any concern the 26th is after the 40th day?

    Bob – the meeting will have commenced within 40 days, and the second part is a continuation – as if someone moved to adjourn to a date certain. I’ll double check.

    Tim – is something wrong with the 13th? (no)

    Elwell- they might not want to do consecutive days…

    Ian – I have been in a number of meetings with far fewer people trying to find another dat and it is a mess. We have done due diligence and it is our responsibility to set dates and warn this.

    Daniel – the opposite – if we listen to what we said last week, we would not make this decision without consulting about the second datedly – the 13th or 26th… then we’ll be more likely to have a quorum. maybe we’ll finish in 4 hours.

    Tim – I understand there will be challenges, but it doesn’t look that complicated 9knock wood) and I don’t recall pre-setting a date. We’d continue to Sunday is the assumption usually. is this analysis paralysis?

    Daniel – this platform is a killer for long meetings and we divide it into two chunks, and if so, when should that be?

    Elwell – you can say this day, and a second day if necessary.

    Daniel – we could vote mid-meeting about it.

    Liz – Lawrin said these meetings are long, and it is the will of the reps. It is a long day. Everyone is prepared for it.

    Ian – it will be the 12th and 13th, or 12th and 26th, or 26th, or we could ask the body to weigh in on the second day – the 13th or the 26th?

    Daniel – I thought we could warn certain hours, but no…

    Ian – I say we warn this for the 12th and the 13th if necessary.

    Liz – do we want a zoom meeting or australian ballot?

    Ian – oh yeah…

    Elwell – no motion or action tonight, but need to know if you want a zoom meeting and what dates so we can bring you a proper warning for that meeting. WE’re elating toward zoom but haven’t decided. Give us clarity on zoom vs australian ballot, and which dates.

    Tim – zoom or australian ballot? show of hands? Yes. And the 12th and 13th? (yes)

    Daniel – I am ambivalent and will attend on whatever date we choose. If we don’t have a time limit, then I’m sure it will just happen in the same day and be as long as it needs to be. Not possible with the warning so it is moot.

    Tim – that feels like clarity to me.

    Elwell – 12th and 13th on zoom. You can act on it next Tuesday.

    Ian – Thanks to Bob for drafting the legal brief. Important to see it all spelled out and happy we have it to eliminate confusion.

    Bob – you are very welcome.

    Daniel – some plugs for things to prepare for a good zoom meeting. make the informational session available. There is an opportunity to do training – we’ll do a practice session, but maybe we record some instructional videos, so people can watch and rewatch and practice and pause, and there should abs tuff about mics, cameras, how to write your name so the moderator can use it properly. No misgendering. It is often Mr or Miss, and those assumptions can cause harm. Town Meeting members can have a name tag and help to have a good experience. I’d also like to see a good explanation of Roberts Rules as it pertain to our town meeting. I’m not an expert. It would be good to know more, and what things mean. We have an opportunity to provide more support materials to help reps do a great job.

    Elwell – thanks for the additional definition.

    Tim – I prepared a document for selectboard meetings about how everyone can see you and that might come in handy. I have some excellent books about Roberts Rules. It’s a condensed version…

    Daniel – you could make a video…

    Tim – you could…

    Liz – maybe Marshall Wheelock could give that session.

    Elwell – there is already some discussion around the fact that Roberts might not apply to this kind of meeting, so some thought will be given to us, and the moderator keeping things fair. Still looking into it.

    Tim – thanks. Okay. Anything else?

    Ian – I’ll be in the video with you Daniel about how to use Zoom.

    Tim- okay – a motion?

    adjourned! 8:46pm

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