Bethel Board of Finance member Cynthia McCorkindale has started an online petition to demand that Governor Lamont issue a new Executive Order allowing municipalities to hold budget referendums.
The Governor issued an executive order, 7-I on March 21st that barred municipalities from holding town meetings and budget referendums due to the COVID-19 crisis. Then, on April 1st, the Governor issued a new executive order, 7-S that allowed non-budget meetings and referendums but still banned budget meetings and referendums.
McCorkindale has been outspoken in her opposition to removing budget approval from the voters, and has been joined by Board of Finance members Bryan Terzian and Nick Ellis and members of the public in calling for restoration of the budget vote.
"These orders abrogate the Constitutional principle of consent of the governed, a value that dates back to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut in 1639," McCorkindale said.
The Community Gazette has reached out to both of Bethel's State Senators, Will Haskell and Julie Kushner, as well as State Representatives Raghib Allie-Brennan and Stephen Harding, but was not able to get comment by press deadline.
Bethel First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker has addressed the issue on social media, writing "Town meetings and referendums are OFF THE TABLE. It is not an option." He also added "The governor is well aware of the impact this order has. I'm not going to insult him or waste his time rehashing an issue that has been firmly closed."
At the April 21st Board of Selectman meeting, Selectman Paul Szatkowsi asked to add the referendum issue to the meeting agenda. During that discussion, First Selectman Knickerbocker said he had asked the Town Health Director for her opinion about the safety of a drive through referendum and he offered to schedule a special meeting of the Board if it appeared that a vote could be safely held.
The Community Gazette has asked the First Selectman for a copy of the Bethel Health Department guidance on the referendum issue.
Bethel's Board of Finance is scheduled to hold a public hearing on May 12th and then vote to adopt the budget, which includes a 2.27% increase on May 15th, per the resolution adopted by the Board of Selectmen on April 7th.
At its April 14th meeting, the Board of Finance voted along party lines, with all four Democrats voting to send the increase to the public hearing and the three Republicans voting against. . Neighboring communities ranging from Newtown to Wilton have officially called for no increase due to the economic impact of the COVID crisis.
Within its first hour posted on Bethel social media McCorkindale's budget restoration petition had garnered over 100 signatures..
Those interested in reading the petition, or signing it can access it online at https://is.gd/xrycVF/.
Vernon Allowed To Hold Budget Meeting
Despite Connecticut Council of Small Towns President and Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker's declaration that "Town meetings and referendums are OFF THE TABLE. It is not an option." the town of Vernon has scheduled a virtual Town Meeting and drive-through in-person vote for their budget on April 28th, with approval of the Governor's office.
Given the economic impact of the Covid crisis, Vernon is not seeking a tax increase. In an interview, Vernon Mayor Dan Champagne explained "Even though there is no tax increase it is important that people are given the opportunity to vote and this is done safely. It is very important to protect a persons right to vote."