2nd Update: Jennafer Kalna, assistant to the commissioner of Human Services Demetria Nelson said in an email on Friday that anyone needing special accommodations due to a disability who would like to testify via Zoom at the BET budget public hearing on Monday, March 28 will need to notify Demetria Nelson by 4:00pm on Monday. Call 203-622-3800 or email [email protected]
Update: The meeting notice for the March 28 BET public hearing has been revised. The meeting will be available for viewing only via Zoom webinar, meaning there will still not be an option for members of the public to raise their hand and testify.
Original Story: On Monday, March 28 at 7:00pm, the BET will hold a public hearing for public comment on the town budget.
In January there was a hearing for the BET Budget Committee as they headed into their discussions with town departments. The hearing on Monday will be for the full BET as they head into their budget discussions and votes next week.
The meeting will not be hybrid, as in. That means there is no Zoom option for residents to raise their hands and participate, unless they are in the town hall meeting room in person.
The meeting will be broadcast by GCTV on cable. People with Optimum can tune in to Channel 79. People with Verizon can tune in via Channel 24.
There is also the option of the GCTV YouTube Channel. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoiCrTH1tV16z2Ww-Tw3ohQ)
Residents have complained that without a Zoom option, their only option to testify other than in writing on Monday is in person, or by submitting written comment.
BET chair Dan Ozizmir responded on Wednesday to a request for comment on the lack of Zoom option, saying, “While it may seem like we are changing the approach, it’s more complicated than that.”
“The Budget Committee hearings during the day have had a Zoom viewing option,” he added. “I would also note that during February, the the town hall meeting room wasn’t open to the public due to Covid. All my Full BET meetings have been in person, GCTV and YouTube without Zoom. All the Full BET Meetings have been during the evening, except for a special meeting in the morning to approve the interim for CMS, which was on Zoom.”
Still, Monday’s hearing is an important one. BET member Chair Jeff Ramer, said the BET Democrats had not been consulted on the decision not to include a Zoom option.
“Public Hearing should be done by hybrid Zoom,” Ramer said in an email on Tuesday. “So that the Public can speak and participate both in person and by Zoom. We will be making that request.”
Further, Ramer said, “We are making the request now that the Public Hearing be held on hybrid Zoom, meaning both in public in the Town Hall Meeting Room and broadcast by Zoom. If handled that way, members of the Public could offer comment either by attending in person or by ‘raising their hand’ in the Zoom feature.”
Former Board of Education chair Peter Bernstein talked about BET meetings being held behind closed doors and a lack of transparency.
“One of the few positives from Covid was the increased transparency in government and unprecedented participation by members of the public through mechanisms such as Zoom,” Bernstein said. “This is exactly the reason to question why the BET has chosen to conduct an in-person meeting to receive public comment without an opportunity to participate through Zoom.”
“It’s bad enough that most BET decisions are made behind closed doors in caucus meetings by the party that holds the tie-breaking chair vote. Now they have taken it a step further to avoid meaningful public participation and debate.”
“The Board of Education and Planning & Zoning, as well as the Connecticut state legislature, have mastered this technology to regularly conduct public hearings,” Bernstein added. “In fact, the BET has already used Zoom for this very purpose before, so there is no valid excuse to abandon it now.”
Lastly, Bernstein said that while the BET meetings were usually carried on the local access cable channel, the audio and visual quality have been plagued with issues for years.
“Watching from home is very different from being allowed to speak from home. Why should people have to go and wait for hours and town hall to address elected officials when a perfectly viable mechanism exists?”
Residents will be able to attend the meeting at Town Hall and make comments without signing up in advance.
The link below allows people to submit written comments for the public record.
Residents can can submit written comments up until the meeting ends, so if someone attends in person, but has to leave before it is their turn to speak, it is possible to submit comments through the form as long as it is before the end of the meeting.
Link to submit written comments for the March 28 meeting:
More Info: https://www.greenwichct.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/7810?fileID=150587
Zoom Link for viewing only: https://greenwichct.zoom.us/j/86758802027?pwd=RTFQK2l0L2lMSU5FK1NUZDd2RFl4QT09