Private Brattleboro Selectboard Communictions During Public Meetings

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.

Comments | 16

  • Communications/Selectboard

    I thought this was addressed several Selectboards ago when Ken was on the board. I guess not.

  • Agreed

    Even if such messages are innocent jokes or personal comments, they shouldn’t be sent during a meeting. Poor judgment. Perhaps our hard-working board (a serious compliment, not meant to be snide) needs a way to de-stress, but this isn’t the way or time to do it.

  • Communications during Public Meeting

    Here’s a link to the Commons news article referring to the issue from Sep. 2011:

    Attorney: State’s open meeting law applies to social media
    Originally published in The Commons issue #120 (Wednesday, September 28, 2011).

    By Olga Peters/The Commons

    BRATTLEBORO—Town Attorney Robert Fisher advised the Selectboard last week that board members’ use of social media to communicate with members of the public during a warned meeting violates Vermont’s Open Meeting Law.

  • This is disturbing. Secret conversations don’t build

    This is disturbing. Secret conversations don’t build confidence in the board. It also seems to me that if you are so concerned about something being discussed at the meeting you should be there. And, if the text was not board issue related then it shouldn’t be sent or acknowledged during a meeting.

  • Nice work, Grotke!

    Has anyone contacted Secretary of State Condos for an opinion?

    • Not that I know of

      We know the opinion… from the last time around. : )

      I haven’t. I just point it out…. others can take it from here.

  • "Nice suit!"

    Chris, if you’re using the example that I watched the meeting from a hotel room in Rhode Island and while watching texted Daniel to compliment his suit as evidence of being a “participant”, you’re being silly.

    I take our VT Open Meeting Laws very seriously, and I would never try to attempt a “meeting within a meeting” (which would require a quorum participating) by discussing meeting details during a meeting via electronic means.

    I’m disappointed in this conspiracy from you, but glad you said, “I doubt highly that anything questionable has been communicated to board members during meetings.”

    Also, anyone who thinks the father of a toddler should attend very long Selectboard meetings without having access to his phone for family emergencies can take a flying leap into the Connecticut, quite frankly. If you ever see me on my phone during a meeting, it’s either personal communication, using the calculator, or fact checking / on the fly research. Oh, or checking the score of the game of course.

    FYI, this is a good plug for Jim Condos’ “Transparency Tour” – a talk I have attended and highly recommend, which takes place TOMORROW, the 13th, right there in our Selectboard meeting room. Great timing!

    • Not just this one time

      Not just this time. This was the most recent. (You even joked about the previous transgressions as a warning to other board members when you noticed it a few meetings ago, and I pretty much let it pass.) I believe committee members may have chimed in, or possibly town staff via phones at other mtgs. (Hard to tell exactly. As I said, no way for us to know.)

      The board can work out a way to take emergency calls. No reason not to be informed of emergencies. No leaping needed.

  • Appearances matter

    Timmy, it seems to me that you may be feeling that the reward for your hard work and sacrifices in serving the town has been to be unfairly accused of violating Open Meeting.

    Let’s not forget that Grotke is also dedicated to serving our town, having put in countless hours for a decade or two with detailed accounts of public meetings.

    After reading your complaint that Grotke is imaging “conspiracy,” I re-read what Grotke had written. I found that his what he had written was measured, responsible, and that he had presented his concerns in a way which very carefully made clear that he did not suspect ill-will, and which in no way cast personal aspersions.

    Timmy, there may be a time to “strike back” against an attacker, but let’s reconsider as to whether this is truly that time. Why not go over the pros and cons of this issue — objectively and dispassionately — with Jim Condos.

  • huh?

    Not sure where the “striking back” occurred here, Steven. I see two people who respect each other stating their cases.

    As for talking to Jim Condos, I’m all for it! Go for it.

  • Go for it?

    Huh? I am not on the Selectboard. It is not my my use of private communications during meetings (in apparent contradiction to past advice from the town attorney) which has triggered concern. Telling me to “go for it,” does not make sense.

    If you prefer not to seek the Secretary’s opinion, then just say so.

  • Anyone ask?

    Did anyone ask Jim Condos while he was in town?

  • Private texting during public meetings

    Did this issue ever get resolved? Thank you all for having a serious discussion about this topic.

    • Maybe later

      To the best of my knowledge, things remain pretty much as they were. The board asks us to trust that any communications that occur during public meetings are personal emergencies. I’m pretty sure these communications are not being archived for public records, but maybe they are?

      I think the plan is to stick to the status quo, then adopt a new policy in a few months. Of course, the current policy is pretty good, though a bit confusing in a few places. If followed, none of this would be an issue. We’d all be able to go look at the public records anytime.

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