Brandon Select Board meets remotely during pandemic

The Brandon Select Board held its first remote access public meeting on Monday using Zoom video conferencing technology.
Officials and members of the public used their home computers to participate, while those who do not have computer access
could still participate via telephone.
Photo submitted


BRANDON ­­– Public meetings are taking on a whole new look as the corona virus pandemic grips the country. The Brandon Select Board held its first remote access meeting Monday night with the help of video conferencing.

In order to comply with both the social distancing directive to ease the spread of the virus and the Open Meeting Law, the board held its regular meeting using Zoom video conferencing software and telephones.

“It’s a very Brady Bunch-looking kind of thing, but it’s great to have a face to see,” said Brandon Select Board Chair Seth Hopkins. “It’s far superior to a conference call.”

With town offices and other public spaces closing and gatherings of more than 10 people prohibited to prevent the spread of the virus, town boards and committees have had to get creative in how they conduct their regular business during very irregular circumstances.

“It was productive,” Hopkins said of the meeting. “We followed Vermont Open Meeting Law for posting, plus invited people to participate with posts on Front Porch Forum and various Facebook pages besides the town website. People could participate from home by Zoom or telephone, and we had some folks participating both ways at this meeting.”

Town Manager Dave Atherton and Selectman Brian Coolidge were physically present at the town hall but no residents attended the physical meeting, which please Hopkins.

“This was a wise decision to protect their health and that of the community,” he said, adding that the six inches of fresh, wet snow on the region could also have kept people away.

During the meeting, Hopkins inquired as to the health and job situations of town employees and Atherton advised that all are healthy and working.

Hopkins also discussed the need for residents not to flush disposable wipes and paper towels into the town wastewater system, as that practice can wreak havoc with a municipal sewer infrastructure.

Atherton said it hasn’t been an issue in Brandon, but that he would post a warning on social media and send out a reminder with next sewer billing.  

“Toilet paper disintegrates but other paper products do not, and those that don’t cause real trouble for pump stations in our wastewater system,” Hopkins said.

Rep. Stephanie Jerome (D- Brandon, Pittsford Sudbury) also participated in the meeting, updating the board on the state-level coronavirus response, particularly as relates to her committee of economic development.  She highlighted SBA and Small Business Development resources for small business owners (see Legislative Report, page 5).

In other business:

• The board designated Dave Atherton the town’s contact person for the Brandon Library’s accessibility project grant.

• The board voted to waive through July 1st late fees for dogs licensed after the statutorily required date of April 1.

• Economic Development Officer Bill Moore presented a request to extend the tax stabilization for the Smith Block LLC from nine to 10 years. After some discussion, the board voted to extend as the property-owner submitted documentation that an additional $1 million had been invested in the property above the $1 million that had already secured the nine-year stabilization, per the tax stabilization policy.

• After some discussion, the board voted to amend and adopt the policy for selling a town asset drafted by Tim Guiles. The amendment clarifies that a buyer is responsible for all legal and advertising costs. A suggestion to require certified mail notifications of each adjoining landowner was not included.

• The board signed the warrants, and, as authorized by Vermont Open Meeting Law, designated one selectman to sign the warrants approved by the whole board. For Monday’s meeting, Coolidge was the authorized signer as he was with Atherton at Atherton and the warrants at the town hall.  

• There was a brief executive session with no action required.  

The town is also increasing its social media presence using Facebook.

“I think one thing we identified pretty early on is that the town didn’t have a bog social media presence,” he said.

So, town business, news and bulletins are being posted through the Facebook pages of the Brandon Rec Department, town clerk Sue Gage, and the Brandon Police Department, as well as the Brandon Chamber newsletter.

“That’s the multi-pronged approach,” Hopkins said.

As for the pandemic and how long the board will have to meet remotely and electronically, Hopkins said town business will be done this way as long as necessary, and that Brandon’s can do spirit is being tested.

“It’s the duration,” he said. “This isn’t about being without power for a few days. This is perhaps weeks or months. The silver lining is, everybody across the globe is in this boat together.”

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