Some members of the Brattleboro Selectboard appear to be having private communications during public meetings.
On a few recent occasions, some Selectboard members have looked at their phones, read some form of communication to them, and have made comments about it. Just the other night, Daniel Quipp said that Tim Wessel had texted him. Until that point, no one knew that Wessel was a participant. He had been presented to the room as absent.
At other times, members have mentioned other messages they have received. There have even been some jokes about the last time this happened with a previous board.
The problem, you may recall, is there is no record of these questions and comments, and the public has no idea who is sending messages, how often they are being sent, nor what is being said.
What messages get sent and read that the public never hears about? Have board members sent messages to each other during meetings? Has Town staff sent messages? Only board members know.
In an official public meeting, this comes across as secret, off-the-record communications. It becomes an unwarned meeting within a meeting. A board member cannot have a private meeting going on during a public meeting. To participate in a public meeting, one must do as all others: go to the meeting, sign in, and participate in public, or communicate with a board member before or after.
I doubt highly that anything questionable has been communicated to board members during meetings. I’m sure most communications have been on topic and helpful. Nonetheless, we don’t know for sure. It’s not like a speakerphone. The messages are hidden from view.
To keep things clean and to keep good meeting records, board members should either turn off their phones during meetings, come up with a way for the general public to see all incoming and outgoing messages identified by sender as they happen, or publish all in-meeting communications so the public is fully aware of everything transpiring during the official meeting.