Bigotry infiltrates Brattleboro board meeting

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BRATTLEBORO — At a meeting abbreviated out of concern over lack of access because of a large-scale power outage and held remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, the biggest disruption came by way of racial and homophobic slurs by an unknown participant.

"Tonight's inaugural Zoom meeting didn't go as well as I had hoped," Select Board Chairman Tim Wessel said at the end of Tuesday's meeting.

"We had a combination of nature's fury thrown at us and power failure and then some terrible bigotry that we had to sit through, which shows that we have a long way to go in our town and our society I think. And that's one of the things we're going to be doing Thursday, one way or another, because no one's going to get in the way of our public meeting discussing things that we are here to discuss."

The board is having a special meeting Thursday to consider a request for proposals for a public safety review. Community members developed the document after national protests over racial inequities and police brutality.

Tuesday's meeting was the first time the town held one on Zoom. Previously, GoToMeeting was the preferred videoconferencing platform due to security concerns when initially deciding how to conduct remote meetings earlier in the pandemic.

Town Manager Peter Elwell told the Reformer police are investigating Tuesday's online incident.

"We are looking into ways to prevent a future intrusion like that on Zoom," he said in an email response. "What we learn about that will inform any decision the Select Board might make regarding the plan for future Select Bord meetings and for Representative Town Meeting."

Wessel said the Brattleboro Police Department has a "very robust digital detective" he hopes will look into the incident.

During the meeting, Elwell noted many households in Brattleboro were without power Tuesday night and the board decided to only address agenda items requiring urgent action. Others — including warning annual Representative Town Meeting and utilities projects — will be addressed at a special meeting at 6:15 p.m. next Tuesday.

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Approved Tuesday were tax rates and liquor licenses for a tasting room at Saxtons River Distillery on Chickering Drive.

As board member Daniel Quipp made a motion regarding the licenses, one meeting participant started saying, "I am Daniel and I don't like [racial slur] at all."

"I'm sorry for the people who," Quipp said before being cut off.

"No, you're not, shut up, [homophobic slur]," said the participant, who then used an expletive when saying that board member Ian Goodnow gave "us the code."

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The code to enter the meeting is public, Wessel said.

"You're no Sherlock Holmes," he said.

"Thanks, [racial slur]," the participant responded.

The participant continued to make derogatory comments about others in the meeting. Elwell said that in the list of participants, one of the names kept changing.

Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland said he would shut off the ability for participants to unmute themselves then unmute board members. Then a song with racial slurs interrupted the meeting at three brief intervals.

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Moreland said he couldn't tell who was playing the song and Wessel suggested ending the meeting. An image containing a Nazi flag then came up on the screen.

"I gotta tell you, whoever this is is pretty good," Moreland said, "because they're coming in as all sorts of different people."

After the liquor licenses were approved, Elwell urged the board to proceed with the next item of business due to its "time sensitive" nature.

"And if we get interrupted in the same disgusting manner that we did before, we can stop and pick this piece of business up later this week," he said.

The meeting was no longer disrupted and tax rates were approved.

This year's municipal tax rate will be about $1.29 per $100 of property value, meaning an extra $35.39 for every $100,000 worth of property for the year and less than $9 per quarter. Education tax rates will be about $1.70 per $100 of property value for homestead residences and about $1.60 per $100 of property value for nonresidents.

Downtown properties will be taxed an additional approximately 13 cents per $100 of property value. About $80,000 will be raised to fund the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, which promotes and supports the downtown.

Tri-Park Cooperative Housing will be taxed an additional approximately $6.88 per $100 of property value. The special assessment totals $223,276 and covers debt service for utilities improvements made to the Tri-Park mobile home park system several years ago.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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