BRATTLEBORO — The Selectboard meeting room on the second floor of the Municipal Center had a celebratory atmosphere last week.
Board members, BCTV staff, and members of the public greeted one another with smiles and surprise as they assembled for the first in-person and online hybrid board meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic started last year.
They conducted their July 6 regular meeting seated behind their table in the meeting room while also beaming the meeting through the Zoom videoconference platform with the help of Brattleboro Community Television staff.
Tim Wessel said he felt “giddy” about seeing fellow board members sitting at the long Selectboard table.
After stumbling over a sentence, Daniel Quipp joked, “I forgot my words - I left them on Zoom.”
The online component of the meeting served as a nod to one of the many lessons learned during the pandemic. Over the past year, online meetings helped connect the board and appeared to increase the public's access to, and participation in, the civic process.
As the pandemic fades and people meet in real life once again, the board plans to continue streaming the meeting online and engaging with constituents in that space.
Last week was the first in-person meeting for Vice-Chair Ian Goodnow and board member Jessica Gelter, whose terms began in the pandemic.
“It feels good to be here,” Goodnow said, adding that the hybrid meeting model would be a good tool for the town and public.
When introducing Dan Tyler, assistant director for the Public Works Department, Town Manager Peter Elwell said Tyler made town history that night as the first staff member to appear on Zoom at a hybrid meeting.
Elwell added that, going forward, town staff will attend the meeting in person or online depending on what they need to present. For less complicated topics, staff could attend online, Elwell told the board.
When presenting on issues that required more details or conversation, staff are expected to attend in person, he said.
Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland continued his work as the town's “Zoom tsar.” Last week, he sat stationed next to a large flatscreen monitor as he managed the connection.
Moreland admitted people into the meeting, uploaded presentations, and kept a watch out for members of the public who wanted to speak. No one did.
According to Moreland, 11 people attended through Zoom that night, a number that included town and BCTV staff, he said.
In the meeting room, a handful of people sat in the audience.
After public comment - approximately 35 minutes into the night - most of the audience cleared out. Those that remained were scheduled to speak to specific agenda items and most left as soon after.
By the meeting's end, board members, town staff, BCTV staff, and members of the press remained. Which, considering pre-pandemic board meetings, signaled a small return to an old normal.
McLoughlin said she thought the 2.50-hour hybrid meeting went well. She thanked Moreland and BCTV staff for their assistance, “which, of course, was outstanding.”
She added that it was nice to see people in person again and she appreciated the “opportunity to look each other in the eye.”