Return to Zoom meetings sparks controversy in Glastonbury

·3 min read

Sep. 14—GLASTONBURY — The Town Council is scheduled to meet via Zoom teleconference this evening — as the Board of Education did Monday — and the moves have encountered dissent from the council's minority party members.

Council Chairman Thomas P. Gullotta, a Democrat, said Monday that there was discussion at last week's "agenda meeting" among council leaders of whether the council should meet in person or via Zoom in that the town is in the "red zone" defined by the state Department of Public Health.

DPH defines the red zone as an average daily rate of COVID-19 cases of 15 or more per 100,000 population among people "living in community settings." It is the highest of four categories defined by the department.

Gullotta said he suggested at the agenda meeting that the leaders go back to the members of their parties on the council, find out how they wanted to meet, and follow the wishes of the majority.

He said the council's five-member Democratic majority unanimously favored meeting via Zoom and that he got no immediate response from the council's three Republicans.

ZOOM CONTROVERSY

ISSUE: WHETHER THE GLASTONBURY TOWN COUNCIL SHOULD MEET VIA ZOOM TELECONFERENCE WITH THE TOWN IN "RED ZONE" FOR COVID-19 INFECTIONS.

IN FAVOR: FIVE-MEMBER DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY OF THE COUNCIL.

OPPOSED: AT LEAST TWO OF THE THREE REPUBLICAN COUNCIL MEMBERS AND INDEPENDENT PARTY MEMBER STEWART "CHIP" BECKETT.

But later, he said, Republican council members Kurt Cavanaugh and Lillian Tanski began to express objections to the virtual meeting, and Republican Minority Leader Whit Osgood said Gullotta lacked the authority to decide that the meeting would be held via teleconference.

Gullotta provided a copy of an email from Town Manager Richard J. Johnson saying he has confirmed with the town attorney that the council's rules of procedure and other relevant documents don't "establish a specific protocol" for determining the format of council meetings.

The council met via Zoom from April 2020 through early May of this year but resumed meeting in person on May 25.

Despite the surge in COVID-19 infections brought about by the Delta variant, minority party council members argue that the situation is very different than it was during the 13 months the council met via Zoom.

Independent Party Councilman Stewart "Chip" Beckett said the whole council is now vaccinated and that the ventilation rate in Town Hall has been increased.

But Gullotta said even vaccinated people can contract "breakthrough infections." He also said the ceiling is relatively low in the Town Hall council chambers, adding, "You could have a super spreader event."

Beckett called it "a pretty entitled approach" for the council to work remotely when half the workforce has to work in person. He was a Republican for many years before leaving the party late last year over the refusal of some national Republican leaders to accept the results of November's presidential election.

Cavanaugh called the virtual meetings of the council and the school board "an attempt by the Democrats to shield themselves from the public."

Stressing that the council now can hold "hybrid" meetings, with some members in Town Hall while others participate via Zoom, Cavanaugh said, "There's no reason for all council members to be at home."

He said the full council needs to discuss the issue. Although the issue isn't on the agenda for this evening's meeting, it could be added by a council vote. Gullotta said council members can decide tonight how they want to go forward.

Tanski vigorously criticized the return to virtual meetings, saying it "is creating a danger of cutting off access and transparency at a time when many important issues are flying at us."

The council held a special meeting via Zoom on Aug. 31, which Gullotta said was convened hastily, during vacation season, to discuss the adoption of a mask mandate.

For updates on Glastonbury, and recent crime and courts coverage in North-Central Connecticut, follow Alex Wood on Twitter: @AlexWoodJI1, Facebook: Alex Wood, and Instagram: @AlexWoodJI.

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