Town Attorney Recommends Local Ordinance Process to Enforce Covid Protocols, Create a Community Discussion

At a special meeting of the Selectmen on Wednesday, the First Selectman said the town had been receiving calls, texts and emails from residents with information about parties and large gatherings.

“We’re seeing a little bit of a negative side effect – we’re becoming, in some cases, a town of tattletales,” he said. “Most of the times police go, or some of us go ourselves, and there’s no violation.”

He said this past weekend there was a flood of calls about a party off Clapboard Ridge Rd, but that the party was outdoors and there was no violation.

“Also, let us know before an event, or during it – not after,” he continued.

Chief Heavey said the police responded to that party, they determined that while there was some live music outdoors, the group of about 30 people were conforming to all guidelines.

He said police did return for a second time that night due to noise going beyond the customary reasonable time for a party, but the party was breaking up anyway.

Heavey said there are two relevant statutes police can use at their discretion. They can issue a summons for a violation, or they can make an arrest if someone is having a party that places others’ health in danger, but that the town lacks an ordinance that would address dangerous behaviors during Covid-19.

He noted Gov Lamont’s executive orders will expire on Sept 9, but cautioned that creating an ordinance could take considerable time.

“We’re not going to go for an ordinance right now, we don’t have the time for it, but we have the tools to enforce the executive orders,” Camillo said. “Men and women in blue already have the tools already to enforce violations, whether they are Covid related or not.”

“We want to make something perfectly clear. We encourage people to get out and socialize in a safe manner – not to put anybody in jeopardy. If we see something like the Ozarks and can get there in time, there will be citations.”

Camillo said residents are getting riled up and calling town hall after the fact, when it’s too late for enforcement.

Town Health Dept director said regarding teen parties the weekend of July 16-19, contact tracing was done, though they could only follow up on positive cases of Covid-19 they knew about.

“All of my staff have children, and recognize the sensitivity they faced when they spoke to us. It’s natural that they’d be nervous to speak with us,” she said. “It just got really blown up out of proportion. Even when we do contact tracing with adults, we don’t get call backs.”

She said while there has been an uptick in cases, they don’t correlate to a particular outing or party.

She also said there had been some problems with Greenwich Hospital’s laboratory in which Greenwich patients received false positive test results, and several were asked to retake tests.

Baisley said those retests had yet to be reconciled with the Health Dept data.

“Until those cases are resolved I can’t tell you the number of active cases we have,” she said.

Camillo said it is important to have a sense of normalcy, and for people to socialize, but they should know what is allowable and what is not.

As for parties, outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people with mask wearing an social distancing are allowable.

Town attorney Vin Marino agreed the state statutes are flexible enough to be used in Covid situations for enforcement.

However, he said, “This pandemic is likely to be here for years to come.”

Marino recommended pursuing the local ordinance process given that the pandemic could be here for years to come, and that the Governor’s state of emergency, which went into effect March 10 and will expire in six months, on September 10, unless the legislature takes action to extend that sunset date.

“As you think about the best way to regulate social behavior, the ordinance process may prove to be the best mechanism. Hartford is going to be limited by statutes in place,” Marino said, adding that the local ordinance process, which includes pubic hearings, has the benefit of raising awareness and creating a community conversation.

“The local ordinance is less severe than the state statute. You can have a penalty of up to $250 through the citation process, or not have a penalty,” he said. “And, an ordinance would not expire unless you set a sunset date.”

He said a local ordinance would also address what is unique to Greenwich, which is that it abuts the state line with New York where people abide by a different set of rules.

“The best thing you can do, if you feel there is a need for it, is to employ the local ordinance process,” he said.

He talked about public education, and police using their discretion.

“Kids are going to be kids. I can’t control, my 18-year-old daughter is defying everything I say related to Covid. As parents we have to appreciate that,” Marino said. “This is real life. We don’t live in a perfect world….16 and 18 year old kids are going to stretch the bounds.”

Camillo there may be a Zoom community meeting to answer questions. He said he’d talked to the Chamber of Commerce about possibly working with merchants and restaurant owners to replicate the concept of special hours for seniors, as supermarkets have done.

Stay tuned.