Staying Connected with the Bennington Select Board

I’m not going to sugarcoat the fact that this week was tough. Losing a good friend and community leader like Tom Jacobs amidst all the terrible news, sickness, death, and social dislocation of COVID-19 makes me want to scream at the heavens. I am sure most of us have had cause to scream this week, but we need to tap into the strength of our community, take a deep breath, and push forward.

Part of pushing forward is the gritty detail of conducting public meetings during a pandemic. The Bennington Select Board is committed to governing our town in an open and conscientious manner, and we are equally committed to keeping our residents safe. For the near future we will conduct our meetings by video conference, as you may have seen reported in the Banner or by viewing our last meeting and weekly updates on CAT-TV.

While this abrupt change to videoconferencing is necessary, it will not come without challenges and shortcomings. Chief among these will be that dialog cannot happen in person, for health and safety reasons. We are working hard to develop a telephone call-in protocol that will allow residents to make real-time comments and yet not compromise meeting security.

For now, this is how it will work: we will slightly reorder our agendas, we will allow for telephoned comments on each topic, and we will accept telephone calls for Citizen’s Comment at the end of the meeting. We are moving Citizen’s Comment to the end so that we have more time to communicate call-in instructions during the meeting and so that if you missed making a comment earlier in the meeting, you can make it at the end.

Here is how best to participate:

1: Review the Select Board agenda ahead of the meeting. Call or email the town manager or other board members about your thoughts and concerns. Agendas and contact information are posted on the town website: http://benningtonvt.org/meetings/select-board/

2: Watch the meeting on CAT-TV or their Facebook Live feed.

3: If you want to make a comment during the meeting, call 646-558-8656. Each meeting will have a unique Meeting ID number; this week it is 130 624 956, followed by the “#” sign. Because of security issues, all callers will go on hold immediately and the chair will bring them into the meeting in the order received. You will be asked to clearly state your name to help our secretary take minutes.

As chair of the board, I will do my best to moderate under these unusual conditions, but I will rely on the community for cooperation. Our meetings will follow the usual guidelines: civility and decorum will be required; short, factual questions may be answered by the town manager but unwarned topics will not be discussed; no personal attacks will be tolerated; and comments will be limited to three minutes or less.

Again, if you have a question about town business and sincerely want an answer, please call or email Town Manager Stuart Hurd first. Especially if you want facts or figures, this is your most productive first stop.

This difficult time of isolation will get harder before it gets better, but it will get better. We all look forward to being together again and our meetings will go back to normal as soon as it is safe. Thank you for your patience during this trying period. I am extremely proud of the way our community has stepped up to this crisis. Keep up the good work!

Donald Campbell is the chair of the Bennington Select Board.