Several New Britain aldermen are complaining that their online access at a council meeting was cut off, excluding them from discussing a police accountability proposal and the city’s Columbus statue.
Alderman Aram Ayalon, a Democrat, said the council’s meeting on July 8 was illegal because he and three Democratic colleagues didn’t get to participate.
Ayalon has filed a Freedom of Information complaint against Republican Mayor Erin Stewart.
However, in the July 8 meeting, without prior notice, voting was conducted by voice only without the possibility of voting online. In addition,
“All the four alderpersons participating online were muted without the possibility of voting by voice nor requesting permission to speak,” Ayalon said in his complaint. “My oral request on my cellphone to speak was ignored and my vote was not counted.”
Stewart’s office said it hasn’t received the complaint yet.
Her chief of staff, Justin Dorsey, said the city phased out its system for online council meetings after the last June session. But all aldermen should have known about that, Dorsey said, because the switchover had been planned for weeks.
“Everybody on (council) leadership was told,” Dorsey said.
The council started meeting remotely in the late winter as the seriousness of the coronavirus threat increased. But software that lets council members speak and vote online has been balky, Dorsey said, and the city has been ready to resume in-person meetings for weeks.
“We did what we needed to do during an emergency and we made do. But the emergency has cleared up a little, and we’re back to normal,” Dorsey said.
Ayalon, however, said he and fellow Democrats Richard Reyes, Colin Osborn and Iris Sanchez were never told about the change.
Instead, they called into the July 8 meeting to hear about 40 minutes of public comment on whether to remove the Columbus statue and whether to create a civilian review board with subpoena power. The other aldermen and Stewart attended the meeting in person.
When public comment ended, the four Democrats were cut off, Ayalon said. They could still hear other aldermen speaking, but but couldn’t participate.
“The four of us were muted. We tried to talk, we tried to vote by voice, but there was nothing,” Ayalon said. “All of us were completely ignored. I think this meeting was illegal and should be redone."
Ayalon texted Minority Leader Emmanuel Sanchez, who was at the meeting in person. A video of the session shows Sanchez reporting to Stewart that some aldermen appeared to have been cut off; after consulting with a technician, she said “They’re there?” A voice off-screen replied “They’re unmuted” and Stewart continued the meeting.
Ayalon, who is 65, said he doesn’t want to resume in-person meetings because the council seating is too close for social distancing and because Stewart and some Republican aldermen don’t wear masks during discussions.
The state Freedom of Information Commission has a backlog of complaints because it, too, has not been holding hearings during the pandemic. It has advised Ayalon that it could take four to six weeks to review his complaint before adding it to its docket.
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