In Bethel, Gov't Transparency Questions Resurface
10/05/11 7:34AM By Kirk Carapezza  Download MP3
(Host) In Bethel, some residents question whether minutes of recent select board meetings accurately reflect all that's happened since Tropical Storm Irene.
VPR's Kirk Carapezza reports.
(Carapezza) Bethel's Town Clerk says the Town Manager is responsible for keeping the September minutes that have come under question.
Bethel resident Laura Rubenis wants the town to revise those minutes.
(Laura) "The Select Board appears to be on the defensive."
Rubenis was displaced by the storm, and she says the minutes of Bethel's meetings fail to mention drawn out, often heated debates about disaster response.
(Rubenis) The discussions around these items took probably around two hours, maybe longer. It concerns me a great deal that it's not part of the official record. The governor wound up intervening in the whole process of setting up the emergency disaster center at the Town Hall. That puts the Select Board in a very uncomfortable position."
(Carapezza) There's been tension in Bethel since the storm between elected town leaders and volunteers who've helped with flood recovery.
Earlier this month, Governor Shumlin stepped in to help volunteers open a center inside Bethel's Town Hall to meet the needs of those affected by Irene.
Last week, the Select Board told volunteers to move out because the space was no longer available. That has led to a flurry of publicity and online chatter.
Neither the town manager nor the select board chairman returned repeated calls or emails.
Outside observers say complete meeting minutes are an important way to unite a community.
But Helen Jordan says there are alternatives.
She's the project director for the e-Vermont Community Broadband project - a nonprofit that works on using online tools to promote greater transparency.
Jordan encourages residents to use social media - Facebook, Twitter, Front Porch Forum - to record what's really happening around their town.
(Jordan) "So you're not having people dusting off notes that they took six months ago of a meeting that no one paid attention to; you have people continuously engaged in what's happening in the community and that becomes the fact checking. It's sort of like the rural community ‘Real World' version of wikis, right? You've got a whole community of people paying attention."
(Host) Secretary of State Jim Condos agrees. He says that kind of engagement will keep the democratic process vibrant, even in the event of an emergency like Irene.
(Condos) "There's no question that good government is open government and there's no question that we want to have a situation where the public feels like they know what their government is doing."
(Carapezza) Condos says in most cases the town usually has someone else who's technically not involved in the discussions taking the minutes.
For VPR News, I'm Kirk Carapezza.
(Host) You can read the government minutes from Bethel and many more communities at VPR's Public Post.