Brattleboro board cancels Tuesday night budget meeting

BRATTLEBORO -- The Brattleboro Selectboard had to postpone a special meeting Tuesday night because the Selectboard Meeting Room was filled beyond capacity.

The board called the special meeting to make decisions about the proposed budget cuts that were discussed last week following a townwide vote that rejected the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget.

The room was filled with people, as was the adjoining Hanna Cosman Meeting Room and the hallway leading out of the rooms.

Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein had just opened the meeting, and was beginning to establish the schedule for the evening when interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said the board would be in violation of the fire code if the meeting was allowed to go on.

"We've got an occupancy issue," Moreland said as Gartenstein was preparing to move ahead with the meeting. "The rated occupancy of this room is close to 80. We've got another 10 in the (Hanna Cosman room) and the assistant fire chief tells me we've got another 10 and the hallways are starting to fill up."

Moreland said there was almost as many people in the hallway and it would be hard to ask enough people to leave to allow the meeting to proceed

The board discussed its options, and considered asking some of the people to go into the Brattleboro Community Television studio to watch the meeting on television, but Gartenstein said he did not want to prevent anyone from commenting on the budget cuts.

"My concern is that the open meeting law requires that people who want to attend have the opportunity to attend," Gartenstein said before postponing the meeting. "I'm ready to proceed right now with the discussion, but if there's 110 people who want to participate in the meeting, and there's only room for 100 in this room, then I think that the open meeting law requires us to find a location where people can attend."

Last week, following the townwide vote, the Selectboard members suggested a number of budget cuts which included cutting staff members of the Brooks Memorial Library and the Recreation and Parks Department, postponing the $14.1 million police-fire renovation project and canceling the sidewalk plowing next winter.

The board considered asking some people to leave the meeting room Tuesday, but Gartenstein said there was obviously interest in town to address the issue.

"We're not going to ask people not to attend the meeting so that we can fill capacity and try to get around the open meeting law," Gartenstein said.

Gartenstein said the meeting might be held Thursday if the board can find an open room big enough to accommodate the crowd.

Assistant Fire Chief Peter Lynch said the town had concerns about the crowd leading up to the meeting.

Lynch said Moreland noticed a very high rate of interest in the discussion over the past few days and he asked Lynch to keep count as people entered the room.

After the meeting was postponed Lynch stood outside the room with a yellow pad showing his head count.

"None of these people in the hallway would have a chance to hear, or speak, and that is what the public meeting law is about," Lynch said. "This is very important to a lot of folks. This is a very important topic to talk about."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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