The Brattleboro Selectboard has again implemented a mask mandate for indoor public spaces around town, including bars and restaurants.
They also voted to invite the public to attend their meetings at Central Fire Station rather than from across town at the Municipal Center.
Pre-meeting banter about being heard online, Tuesday meetings being regular, missing executive sessions, dates with Yoshi, spreadsheets…
Chair Elizabeth McLaughlin – no comments
Peter Elwell – receipts of the 1st quarter for LOST and Rooms & Meals. FY22. Happy to report it was our best yet at $270,144 sales tax receipts and second best for Rooms & Meals at $125k. The rebound is faster than we expected with COVID. Hopefully it will continue. Great start.
Tim Wessel – Happy Thanksgiving, and happy I live in Brattleboro.
Public – no public.
Selectboard Meeting Location(s) and Procedures
Liz – anyone want to discuss changing the status quo.
Ian Goodnow – Tim?
Daniel Quipp – I also wanted it on the agenda.
Tim Wessel – this is certainly a legal procedure – we are in Central Fire and it is a nice place and we appreciate it. The public participation room is the selectboard room, and there is Zoom. I’m not a big fan of this arrangement. It feels like a public meeting that isn’t a public meeting I’d prefer that people could be here in person. I doubt there’s be more than a handful. They should be invited here, or we should meet in the selectboard room. That’s me.
Daniel – a moon ago we decided to get away from Zoom and meet in person. I’m happy we did that. last weeks’ meeting – it was great to be in the room together, body language, the consecutiveness of being in the building. We are a board. The relationship is important to me. That consecutiveness extends to members of the public who choose to come and meet with us. A while ago we talked about a project and a family came to talk while we were on zoom. I was moved by their contribution to the meeting. I’ like someone to have access to us as a board. Talking face t face is important. The vast majority will access this on Zoom. Maybe come for an item on an agenda. If they want to do that I’d like them to do that. We’re here, and the public is watching – I’d like them to have more access. I thought we’d be in person and the public would have access in the same physical space. We’d expect them all to be masked, so I’d prefer that we resume meeting where the public can come to the same physical space.
Liz – I feel differently. This is a bit of a bait and switch. -we were told it was important to be together as a board, but we did not discuss the public. It reminds me of the Stone Church. We can’t do what they do. We can’t ask the status of vaccination. That’s why I think this is a nice compromise. It’s safer. It’s an excellent solution. Happy to look you in the eye and see the public on Zoom, and it won’t hurt any relationships.
Ian Goodnow – I’m in favor of putting it all in one room again. I don’t agree the conversation was just about the board – it was about getting back in person with the public. These are just two options, neither being one over the other, but we were given a choice, and now having done it for one meeting, I feel like Daniel and Tim and not having the public have access to us… I think I’m in favor of being back in one room despite the risk.
Liz – Despite the risk…
Jessica Gelter – I’m on board with the full access by the public. Not just for us to be together, but the public to be there and be able to read the room, so …
Elwell – The preference is clear, so here’s how we’d warn it… plan A was to be held in this room, with a bit less distance than now, and there will be along back wall and set the audience there…they can come and go for a particular item. So that’s what we’d plan to do. That can work for BCTV. We’ll work out access with the fire department. When we warn the meeting it will be for this to be the only physical location, but also encourage them to attend on zoom?
Potential Consideration of a Local Rule Requiring Face Coverings in Indoor Public Spaces
Elwell – So, um… I don’t want to go back through all the history. The board did approve a local face covering rule early on and it stayed in effect for 13 months. You rescinded it in June – exercising local authority. You then in August, in response to increasing case numbers locally, you voted for a town wide local face covering rule – for indoor public spaces. Not for private spaces… at that time, there was no state of emergency but there was Title 18 and as health commissioners you can create rules for public health rules. The governor’s office rejected it, and we learned that the Governor had issued a directive that COVID related rules would be overseen by the Governor. Time went on, numbers went up. We’re a month into high rates of community transmission across the entire state. In August it was substantial. Now we’re been in the high category for over a month. legislative leaders asked for a state wide rule, and instead he let the legislature adopt a special act, which he signed, until April 30 of next year, that local select boards can do as you did and have local face covering rule. We have language in your backup materials for a standard sign people can see in businesses. “Face covering required in all establishments in Brattleboro…” Consistency is the question before you. People should be wearing masks indoors says the CDC if high transmission. Up to you. I’ll stop there. There is a draft resolution for you, almost the same as August, but now reference the more recent legislation and we’ve added a standard sign, and the effective period anticipates you taking action to reverse this, or the state takes action to make this null and void. Finally, this is a carryover from what you wanted in August – that this would be on regular meeting agendas to check in to see if it should be left in place.
Daniel – I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We knew this was coming. The governor would only accept this sort of bill. This thing is about party politics – the state being put in a situation where towns can put local mask mandates in place. You can pretty much guarantee that the ones that do this will be relatively Democratic, and the towns that won’t need this the most. I’m disappointed we’re in this position. A few months ago, our request made sense. We wanted to be safe and we weren’t allowed to. I’m cheesed off. It’s too little, too late, and the piecemeal effect will limit effectiveness. The people of Vermont are the ones who suffer. This board will put a mandate in place, but other towns that need something like this will be reluctant and need the Governor’s push. I played with data today – there is great variation in case rate, vaccination rate – some communities are being hammered by COVID. Thankfully we’re doing ok given our size. part of that is the cult is here. Our mask mandate won’t do too much here. Not a sweeping impact. There are other places. In Bellows Falls – I was the only one wearing a mask. I wanted to put it in perspective. We had 37 in 10k in last two weeks. Other places much higher. I wish the governor had made this state wide. I’m in favor.
Ian – it should be a statewide mandate. The board will again due the right thing, though it would have been more effective back in August. It wasn’t a full 5-0 vote, but I still think it is the right thing. We’re all trying to makeup through this pandemic. I have a lot of faith in Brattleboro.
Liz – I agree with what others said. I remember in August worrying about Thanksgiving, and here we are. Brattleboro is a county hub and people come from Bennington where there are high numbers. I think it is important for Brattleboro… if we stop one person from getting sick, great! It’s an emergency the governor doesn’t quite recognize.
Tim- I have slightly different views . Last time I was the sole one who was against the mandates. I am pro vaccination and masking indoors but I’m anti this mandate. This is one thing he’s getting right as Governor. he’s right that the focus should be on hospitalizations, and deaths. Cases shouldn’t be the highest measure. It’s rapidly becoming endemic and we have to rapidly move to making this a part of our lives. Not to say it isn’t a danger, but the governor is getting right the need for vaccinations, but also pointing out that you are further trivializing people when something becomes a mandate when it could just be community… people don’t like being told what to do. They’ll do the right thing because of others. It’s the polite thing to do if others are wearing masks. You are trivializing and making people take the other side. Othering. Its reasonable to ask questions about vaccinations, but you should support them. Telling people to mask up tells people there is no point to getting vaccination. Vaccines are doing what they would do. Never told it would stop spread or cases… it stops hospitalizations. Hospitalizations are mostly unvaccinated. This is a rule with no enforcement mechanism. We have to be up front about this. It’s an encouragement. We have the 5-0 encouragement. We passed it. Meanwhile we are literally – and I’ve done some traveling – we’re the most masked town in the most masked states, in a highest vaccinated town, and all of that was done without a mandate. We’ve gotten to a pretty good point… if some places don’t have masks, you can go somewhere else. It’s kind of evened out. I think we’ll lose more people getting vaccinated, and lose the push to getting out of the pandemic. If any town doesn’t need this, it’s Brattleboro. Other towns need this. And personally I don’t want to mandate anything when you can have success with a carrot. People will do the right thing – but an unenforced rule, with no teeth to it, or unless you fear a finger wagging, there is no enforcing. Police have more important things to do. And restaurants and bars… that’s just performance… the walk in with a mask, then take it off for restaurants and bars. I don’t want to tinker with this. I’ll vote no. We can do it without telling people what to do.
Jessica – good points, well taken. mandates can divide us and emphasize the tribal aspect of this pandemic. We did so well for the first several months. We took it seriously and communicated to the public that this was serious. You mention we should look at hospitalizations, BMH ICU beds have filled up, Cheshire was at capacity last week. There is a capacity issue. I was proud this summer when we were leading the way, and disappointed that the governor wasn’t on board with Brattleboro stepping up again. Now that we can, we must! I’m so glad we are allowed to do this. In some ways, yes, it is a token effort and not enforceable, but it is a way we can communicate to the town and visitors passing through that we care and want to protect people.
Liz – the answer to the tribalism issue is that we are doing this with love and care for our citizens. No sort of reverse psychology to not wear masks if we tell them to.
Jessica – restaurants and bars? This says all indoor locations. Want to make some space? And also, reviewing every selectboard meeting – could that be the consent agenda unless something changes.
Ian – good idea. I’d like to incorporate the April 30 effective date in the language… where it says VT taking action, on or before April 30..
Elwell – I was thinking of putting the April 30th date in here – the legislation expires on April 30 – I was going to put that in, but also know that the legislature will have further consideration in January. If you look at the votes, it was closer than the debate. Quite a few spoke in favor of a state wide mandate who voted against because of the manner this came forward and it wasn’t state-wide, even though they think action is needed. Many who voted to pass this felt frustrated that this was all that could be done. For the reason they’ll take it up in a regular session, not a governor’s special session, and they can take up masking. There is a possibility there will be additional attempts action that will change the April 30th date. You might be in February that something makes this confusing if we say it expires on April 30th. So that’s why I said unless the state takes further action.
Ian – I appreciate that. maybe a footnote. No, that makes sense.
Liz – it references the state law, so that’s your footnote.
Ian – I’m satisfied.
Elwell – restaurants – this is a gut read on this – the decision you made in May 2020 was that there are people taking masks off to eat and rink, but exempting restaurants will exempt them – it’s fine for staff and acorns who aren’t eating or drinking. It is understood they will take masks off to eat and drink. Previously, we said keep it simple, and of course bars and restaurants would have some special cases. We can write special language if you want.
Daniel – NY require vaccination to go to a restaurant. So let’s have some proof of vaccination – I’d love if restaurants in town did this across the board. Some places did it. I want this winter to live my life as normal as possible, and going to some restaurants. The more they can encourage vaccination… I’m annoyed how limited the legislature’s options were. I’m reluctantly voting for this.
Liz – I appreciate your honesty. I think we can leave this alone, and restaurants…
Tim – I agree about the consent agenda. It’s a good suggestion so we don’t talk about it every week. One thing – David healer made a good point in some comments from merchants today. He makes a point – we always rail against unfunded mandates. If we pass this, maybe we should kick in some funds for masks. He has out of state customers at the Whetstone…
Liz – he can’t afford it?
Tim – it’s an unfunded mandate to our merchants.
Jessica – interesting that you bring this up. With such a big rooms and meals tax bounty, maybe we can supply something.
Ian – Tim, you talk about risk assessment in the new normal. People have been living with this for over a year and that restaurants are risky. We shouldn’t mess with it in our mandate. It undermines it some, but protects staff some, and its you aren’t eating or drinking, put the mask back on. How much money are we looking at?
Elwell – we can do some analysis – number of businesses and masks. Probably not much, but it could be.
Ian – we provide them, or they could come pick them up if they need them.
Liz – my husband and I both have businesses and we don’t need masks.
Daniel – many businesses got covid relief funds and some should be to maybe buy some masks. This isn’t a new thing. The vast majority have a bunch of masks. I’d be surprised if people need us to spend town money. I get what you are saying, but feeling like saving money.
Liz – if you run establishments, you can include a box of masks in your business plan.
Tim – it’s more that we are asking our merchants to do. With that rule we ask them to put up a sign and police it.
Liz – but Tim
Tim – It’s another thing we ask them to do…
Liz – most surgery said they already do it.
Tim – I’ll count it…
Elwell – based on the discussion you’ve had, there is clarity here that 4 of you want to move forward with this. Move forward with a resolution to require face coverings indoors.
Tim – the public?
Ian – I’ve been keeping an eye
Liz – public?
Mask mandate rule passes 4-1 (Tim against)
They are moving on to other business, but this is a special meeting and I promised myself not to cover these as much… so.. if anything happens, share it below.