The Bethel Community Gazette
The Bethel Community Gazette
Saturday, September 26, 2020 • HomeArts DiningNews AdvertiseSubscribe

Federal Civil Rights Complaint Filed

By Bradley Koltz
May 10, 2020
In response to the Bethel Board of Selectmen directing the transfer of authority to approve the annual budget from the town's legal legislative body, the Town Meeting, to the executive body of the Board of Finance, Bethel Board of Finance member Cynthia McCorkindale has filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice against the Bethel Board of Selectmen, the Bethel Health Department and Governor Lamont for violation of civil rights regarding the right to vote during the COVID crisis.

The complaint focuses on three separate executive orders singling out budget votes for prohibition. In notes that the non-legislative process moved forward despite other communities in Connecticut holding budget votes and the recommendation from the Bethel Registrars on methods to hold a safe referendum vote following the same protocol used by the schools to distribute daily lunches. U.S. Attorney General Barr recently directed the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute such violations.

What follows is Governor Lamont's executive order 7HH, The memorandum from the U.S. Attorney General and the complaint filed by Ms. McCorkindale.

Executive Order 7HH

NOW, THEREFORE, I, NED LAMONT, Governor of the State of Connecticut, by virtue

of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the State of Connecticut,

do hereby ORDER AND DIRECT:

1. Clarification of Executive Order No. 7I, Section 13 - Mandatory Suspension of In-Person Voting Requirements by Members of the Public on Municipal Budgets. Executive Order No. 7I, Section 13 shall be deemed to require the budget-making authority of every municipality to adopt a budget for the July 1, 2020 - June 30, 2021 fiscal year and to set a mill rate sufficient, in addition to the other estimated yearly income of such town and in addition to such revenue surplus, if any, as may be appropriated, not only to pay the expenses of the municipality for said fiscal year, but also to absorb the revenue deficit of such town, if any, at the beginning of said fiscal year using the procedures set forth therein, and to suspend any requirement for a vote on such budgets or mill rates by residents, electors, or property owners, including, but not limited to, any vote by annual town meeting or referendum. All conditions precedent to any such adoption, including without limitation, public notices, hearings, or presentations, shall proceed in a manner as closely consistent with the applicable statutes, special acts, town charters, municipal ordinances, resolutions or procedures as possible, and in compliance with the open meeting provisions set forth in Executive Order No. 7B. Nothing in this order shall invalidate or repeal the results of any vote on a budget or tax rate held by annual town meeting or referendum before the effective date of this order.

U.S. Attorney General Memorandum

April 27, 2020

MEMORANDUM FOR THE ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR CIVIL RIGHTS AND

ALL UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS

FROM: THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

SUBJECT: Balancing Public Safety with the Preservation of Civil Rights The current national crisis related to COVID-19 has required the imposition of extraordinary restrictions on all of our daily lives. Millions of Americans across the nation have been ordered to stay in their homes, leaving only for essential and necessary reasons, while countless businesses and other gathering places have been ordered to close their doors indefinitely.

These kinds of restrictions have been necessary in order to stop the spread of a deadly disease but there is no denying that they have imposed tremendous burdens on the daily lives of all Americans.

In prior Memoranda, I directed our prosecutors to prioritize cases against those seeking to illicitly profit from the pandemic, either by hoarding scarce medical resources to sell them for extortionate prices, or by defrauding people who are already in dire circumstances due to the severe problems the pandemic has caused. We have pursued those efforts vigorously and will continue to do so. Now, I am directing each of our United States Attorneys to also be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.

As the Department of Justice explained recently in guidance to states and localities taking steps to battle the pandemic, even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. The legal restrictions on state and local authority are not limited to discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. For example, the Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with the national economy. If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court.

I am therefore directing the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and Matthew Schneider; the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to oversee and coordinate our efforts to monitor state and local policies and, if necessary, take action to correct them. They should work not only with all Department of Justice offices and other federal agencies, but with state and local officials as well.

Many policies that would be unthinkable in regular times have become commonplace in recent weeks, and we do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public. But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis. We must therefore be vigilant to ensure its protections are preserved, at the same time that the public is protected.

I thank you for your attention to this important initiative and for your service to our country.

U.S. Department of Justice Complaint

U.S. Department of Justice

Civil Rights Division

Voting Section - 4CON

950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.

Washington, DC 20530

I, the undersigned, Cynthia Jean McCorkindale, request that the following be considered a formal complaint against the BOARD OF SELECTMEN, TOWN OF BETHEL CONNECTICUT: First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker, Selectmen Richard Straiton & Paul Szatkowski, in their official capacity, HEALTH DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR, TOWN OF BETHEL, CONNECTICUT: Laura L. Vasile, in her official capacity & His Excellency, NED LAMONT, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT, in his official capacity.

I. Cynthia Jean McCorkindale, currently serve as a member of the Bethel Board of Finance, in year #2 of a second 4-year elected term. I am the Chair of the Bethel Independent Town Committee, and former Chair of the Bethel Action Committee, a taxpayer advocacy group founded in the 1980s.

BACKGROUND

Bethel, Connecticut is a town of approximately 19,000 residents. Like over 130 other CT towns, Bethel operates under a TOWN MEETING FORM OF GOVERNMENT. This means that over the course of our annual budget season, the Board of Finance proposes what we consider to be a reasonable budget at a PUBLIC HEARING, and subsequently, our ANNUAL TOWN MEETING, which serves as the voting body to send the proposed budget on to referendum for a machine vote.

COMPLAINT

I believe that CONNECTICUT GOVERNOR NED LAMONT is in violation of SECTION 2 OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT as a result of a series of EXECUTIVE ORDERS which usurp THE RIGHT TO VOTE from the taxpayers of Bethel, by incrementally restricting and ultimately depriving us of our right to vote by referendum on our annual budget. THE BETHEL BOARD OF SELECTMEN is complicit in their failure to challenge these Executive Orders, further demonstrated by their total lack of intercession or advocacy on behalf of the voters to appeal or request additional information or permission for any alterations to the Executive Orders.

1. EXECUTIVE ORDER 7c ISSUED 15 MARCH 2020

#5 of this order extends budget adoption deadlines and otherwise allows the Town Meeting process of Public Hearing, Annual Town Meeting, and machine vote referendum.

2. EXECUTIVE ORDER 7i ISSUED 21 MARCH 2020

#13 of this order suspends the requirement for an Annual Town Meeting and gives the Board of Selectman the power to bestow all budget-making authority to the Board of Finance, thus usurping the voters' right to vote on the annual budget. This is a radical transformation of the traditional role of a Board of Finance. The role of the Board of Finance (an ELECTED board) is to submit what we believe to be a reasonable budget for the taxpayers of Bethel, the legal legislative body, to approve or reject at referendum. This decree by the Governor cedes so much power to the fiscal authority, devoid of any legislative action, that my participation in this process has created a conflict inside my own mind as to whether I should participate at all.

3. EXECUTIVE ORDER 7s ISSUED 01 APRIL 2020

#7 of this order appears to remove all in-person voting requirements for time-sensitive issues i.e. annual budget, and yet, specifically states that statutory process including public hearing, annual town meeting and subsequent voting can occur if first vetted by State OR local health authority.

On 21 April 2020, our very capable Registrar of Voters. Mr. Tim Beeble, had, presented a voting protocol that significantly reduced risks for contracting COVID19. see attached votingproc.pdf), which includes a succinct timeline of the progression of the Executive Orders affecting the voting process. Mr. Beeble's process outline is a response is to Order 7s.

The contradiction here is that The Connecticut State Department of Education issued GUIDELINES to Connecticut School Districts outlining a detailed procedure for the safe distribution of subsidized lunches and school supplies, while our Local Health Department warns against having a referendum for health reasons. (see attached CT-COVID19-Guidance-for-Distribution-of-Emergency-Meals-and-Educational-Supplies-412020.pdf & BETHEL Health Dept Opinion Safe Vote 42320.pdf ). NOTE: There is no identifying information on the Department of Education's memo, nor is there any signature or date. This protocol does not appear to be sanctioned by the State Department of Health.

I find it outrageous that the Bethel Board of Selectmen, who requested an opinion exclusively from the Bethel Health Department, and, knowing about the lunch guidelines, failed to request opinion from the State of Connecticut Health Department or consult with the State Board of Education. Additionally, several Connecticut towns, for example, Vernon, have gone forward with “drive-up” voting as a safe voting procedure, with no negative consequences or sanctions.

4. EXECUTIVE ORDER 7hh ISSUED 01 MAY 2020

#1 of this Executive Order appears to be a clarification of a previous order, 7i. This Order was so poorly worded that it provoked a firestorm of confusion amongst Connecticut boards and commissions, including Bethel. It is this order, 7hh, that finally closes the door on all in-person voting on annual budgets, safe or otherwise, while, at the same time, allowing public hearings and special town meetings on any other issue.

CASE REFERENCES

This series of Executive Orders from the Governor combined, with the lack of advocacy on the part of our local Board of Selectmen, has wreaked havoc on our Town Meeting form of Government budget process, and does nothing more than strip taxpaying voters of their rights under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act

· Citing a Connecticut Superior Court MEMORANDUM OF DECISION by Judge H. Hammer, dated 07 November 1979, in the case of Vydra vs. Syrliac et al. (see attached judgehammer79.pdf)

The relative roles of the Board of Finance and the Town Meeting were aptly delineated by the State's Supreme Court in Benham v. Potter, 77 Conn. 185 (at p. 199) as follows:

“Nothing is plainer than that the Board of Finance was never intended to be the dominant power in respect to the finances of the town. Its work is required to be submitted to and considered by the voters in town-meeting assembled. The power of revision by the majority action is carefully preserved. Its influence as a conservative and restraining force is recognized; its dominance is not, and any attempt to import it into the Act by construction is in violation of its evident spirit.”

· Darren Bailey vs Governor Jay Robert Pritzker in his official capacity; Case No. 2020-CH-06 (see attached 458668521-Bailey-v-Pritzker-TRO.pdf)

#5. Plaintiff has shown he has a clearly ascertainable right in need of immediate protection, namely his liberty interest to be free from Pritzker's executive order of quarantine in his own home.

· WASHINGTON STATE OPINION AGO 1991 No. 21: “Can a Governor, without statutory authority, create obligations and responsibilities having the force and effect of law by issuing an Executive Order for the protection of wetlands?”

The answer to this question is no. (see attached 20200507_Attorney General Ken Eikenber.pdf)

· MEMORANDUM FOR THE ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR CIVIL RIGHTS AND ALL UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS " 27 April 2020. (see attached USDJ-Barr.pdf)

From: The Attorney General

Subject: Balancing Public Safety with the Preservation of Civil Rights (see attached USDJ-Barr.pdf)

· ONLINE PETITION launched by Cynthia McCorkindale and signed by 534 Connecticut voters as of date of this complaint, 26 April 2020

CONCLUSION

I seek no remedy other than the restoration of my voting rights and the freedom to vote in our Town Meeting Form of Government machine vote referendum on the 2020-21 annual budget. The Governor's Executive Orders denying our right to vote not only disenfranchises the voters of Bethel, but also any Board of Finance members, like myself, who are now struggling with an unconstitutional authority that we neither anticipated nor want.

The Governor of Connecticut has stepped outside his authority in the selective abrogation of our voting rights, an act which is contradicted by the State-issued guidelines for safe lunch and school supply distribution via procedures effectively identical to the protocol outlined by the Bethel Registrar of Voters. Further, the Bethel Board of Selectmen and, at their behest, the Bethel Health Director offered no criteria or references to clarify their position on their cancellation of our referendum, and simply, without question, implemented the Governor's orders.

The State of Connecticut is the only New England state whose Governor has prohibited, via Executive Order, referendum voting during the COVID19 pandemic.

There is an overarching irony here as well: Connecticut, (later nicknamed The Constitution State), issued The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut in 1639, considered by many to be the first “Constitution.” The Orders outlined a Government based in the rights of an individual. Today, the individual rights in the Orders, with others added over the years, are still included as a "Declaration of Rights" in the first article of the current Connecticut Constitution, adopted in 1965.

Sincerely,

Cynthia J. McCorkindale


Weather

























A proud member of the dues free Bethel Business Network

Click here to learn how you can grow your business, too.
Published by Publishing Partners Group, LLC
A Member of The Bethel Business Network, The National Newspaper Association and the Society of Professional Journalists