Brattleboro Selectboard: Reconsider making Representative Town Meeting in-person only

BRATTLEBORO — On Jan. 3, the Selectboard voted to hold Annual Representative Town Meeting as a strictly in-person event for the first time since 2019. The vote took place during the first board meeting of the year, and those of us with family obligations during the holiday could not attend.

The Selectboard should reconsider this decision for two reasons.

First of all, in the minutes of the meeting, I see that Selectboard members asked for the opinion of RTM members. However, no one actually seems to have checked the minutes of last year’s meeting.

At the end of that long night last March, as recorded on page 12 of those minutes, RTM passed the following motion:

“RTM recommends that the 2023 RTM be held in a hybrid format, and offer ways to attend in-person or virtually, while also having a Zoom option made available to the public, with a Zoom co-host assigned to assist with the virtual aspect of the meeting, with details to be developed by the Selectboard.”

This passed 80 in favor, 8 opposed.

If the Selectboard’s decision was meant to be based on the needs of RTM members, they ought to take this motion into consideration.

The second reason is one of selection bias. There were multiple RTM members at the Jan. 3 meeting who spoke in favor of in-person meetings. I must point out that the minority of RTM members who are available to come to the very first Selectboard meeting of the year are, by default, the ones who do not have a problem with in-person meetings.

Those of us who have at-home obligations and Covid concerns are less likely to be able to come and speak in person, much as we might want to. I know at least one candidate for this year who is no longer going to submit an application because she cannot and will not attend a strictly in-person meeting.

I may not be able to, either. I have managed to attend hour-long, masked Finance Committee meetings with six people in them, but a day-long indoor meeting with 250 is more Covid risk than I want to bring home to my child — in particular, during the rise of a treatment-resistant variant.

At least one person last year had trouble with Zoom because he called in from a beach in Florida and then seemed surprised to have connection issues. I hope folks who had technical troubles last year will take them as a learning opportunity, take advantage of provided tech support, plan to be at a computer for future Zooms, or come in-person in the event of a hybrid meeting.

For all its flaws, Zoom is still the best option to attend RTM for me and my family.

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