Town Meeting Results Are Deemed Valid
First Selectman Assures Town That Rules Were Properly Followed
At this week's Town Meeting that resulted in approval of the revised budget and set May 7th as the referendum date, a controversial "maneuver" was used to end discussion and move the meeting to a vote, even while voters were queued in line to speak to the assembled officials and voters about the budget. The Town Meeting operates under Roberts Rules, a set of specific rules that govern how issues may be raised, voted on or debated. One such rule allows a motion to end discussion and move to a vote, but it requires a 2/3rds vote in order to end the discussion. Voters present raised the issue of whether a 2/3rds vote could be recorded as the vote was taken by a voice vote - essentially attendees shouting their approval or disapproval of the motion, rather than a specific count of voters holding placards. A second complaint surfaced that the audience consisted of registered and non-registered voters and that a simple voice vote allowed non-registered voters to "count" by yelling their vote.
The Bethel Community Gazette raised the issue with First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker and Town Attorney Martin Lawlor. Mr. Knickerbocker responded with this statement, "There is no problem whatsoever with either last night's meeting nor the upcoming referendum, and this complaint has no validity." He continued, "Voice votes are always the accepted method of voting at town meetings, and it is the moderator's job to "call" the vote or determine if a voice vote appears close enough to warrant a hand-count. Unless a challenge is issued from the floor immediately, the moderator's call of "motion carries" or "motion fails" is the final word. In last night's motion to call the question, it was clear to everyone in the room that the congregated participants overwhelmingly voted in favor of moving the question, most likely by a much greater margin than the minimum two-thirds requirement. Even at that, when the vote to call the question was taken, anyone in the room could have called for a show of hands or a "division of the house" to verify count. Since no one took that action, the voice vote is binding. Also, I counted no more than three non-resident observers in the room, who consisted of our school superintendent and two colleagues. They did not vote. The upcoming referendum is completely proper and legal."