GOSHEN — More than 45 people logged in to attend Goshen’s first hybrid town meeting Monday night, which was held at Goshen Center School and attended in-person by about 20 people, plus the Board of Selectmen and town officials.
As people entered the Zoom virtual meeting, they were asked to show identification to the town clerk and registrars to verify their eligibility to vote.
The first of its type for the town, the hybrid meeting moved quickly through its agenda, which included accepting the town report, and nominating and electing members of the Recreation Commission, the Economic Development Commission and the Inland Wetlands Commission.
Those elected at the meeting included Patrick Lucas and Erin Reilly to the Recreation Commission; Fred Wadhams, Lorraine Lucas and Neal White Jr. to the Inland Wetlands Commission; and Christopher Sanders, Clinton Thorn, Heidi Koenig, William Commerford, Todd Carusillo and George Szydlowski to the Economic Development Commission. The meeting began at 8 p.m. and ended at 8:35 p.m.
Goshen officials decided to allow virtual attendance as well as in person, after several residents said voters should have an online option during the pandemic.
“I thought it went well,” said First Selectman Robert Valentine. “We were prepared to do more to make sure everyone could participate, but it was really very simple.”
Voting for the boards and commissions could have been complicated if more candidates were nominated, he said. “Had we had more candidates than slots, the registrar would have handed out paper ballots for everyone who came in person, and we could have used the poll option for those on Zoom.”
In September, Valentine held a special town meeting at the Goshen Fairgrounds in a dairy barn. The meeting was attended by about 15 people. After that, Valentine sought clarity from the state’s executive orders governing public gatherings and voting, saying that unless the executive orders provided specific rules for voting on Zoom, for example, he was obligated to hold the meetings in person.
In October, executive order 9H provided that clarity for Valentine. A part of Executive Order 9H states that towns and cities can hold town meetings that involve taxpayer voting on spending, acquisitions and other business online, using a platform such as Zoom, as well as in person, or a hybrid. On the ct.gov website, executive order 9H is dated Oct. 20, and gives a lengthy description of how town meetings can be handled using a hybrid model.
According to the order, “Remote Participation in Municipal Meetings,” a local legislative body “may hold a public meeting or hearing that provides for remote participation in its entirety, or for remote participation in conjunction with an in-person meeting, which shall be referred to herein as a ‘hybrid meeting.’”
Remote participation, according to 9H, includes public comment, and the “ability of electors or qualified voters to vote, if eligible pursuant to state statute, municipal charter or other applicable legal authority, at any meeting, annual town meeting or special town meeting.”
The order also says public officials must use precautions “in a manner that significantly reduces the rise of transmission of COVID-19,” and that no one can be denied attendance because they choose to do so remotely for the duration of the pandemic.
Valentine said the Zoom platform is commonly used now, which made the meeting a little easier. “We’re into many months of doing online meetings now,” he said. “Everyone is familiar with Zoom, and those who weren’t caught on pretty easily.”