Town Meeting ’21: No cookies

BRISTOL — Perhaps the shortest way to draw a contrast between last year’s “normal” town meeting in Bristol and this year’s virtual information-only meetings is to cite the following statement, which was uttered on Zoom Monday night:
“You’re muted.”
Those two words sum up nearly a year’s worth of the logistics driving municipal business during the coronavirus pandemic, not only in Bristol or Vermont, but around the globe.
The fact that “you’re muted” was uttered only once on Monday is evidence that we’ve come a long way since the Bristol selectboard began meeting virtually last spring.
Bristol held two informational town meetings this year — on Feb. 22 and March 1 — to help residents understand what they would see on Tuesday’s Town Meeting Day ballots.
Spoiler alert: All of the ballot articles passed.
The Independent attended Monday night’s meeting and made the following observations:
•  most people attending at any given time: 67.
•  maximum number of viewable people on the reporter’s computer screen: 25.
•  number of people who, in lieu of a live video feed, used static photos of themselves in the outdoors: 7.
•  Zoom boxes in which people appeared in pairs: 3 (4, if you include Treasurer Jen Myers’s charming daughter Lucy, who made occasional appearances Monday night and who was born around Town Meeting Day 2018).
•  percentage of attendees who never turned their video feeds on: 67.
•  number of people who used “Zoom backgrounds” instead of featuring their natural surroundings: 2, including selectboard member Ian Albinson, who practically pioneered the practice in Addison County.
•  most unusual video feed angle: a light bulb as seen from the base of a lamp.
•  most mysterious sound: something like a cosmic printer printing something cosmic.
•  second most mysterious sound: something like scraping, but underwater.
•  coolest glasses award: Sue Kavanagh.
•  cheerful animation and sincere engagement award: also Sue Kavanagh.
•  estimated percentage of the meeting that was pure silence: 30.
•  total running time: 73 minutes.
•  total running time of the in-person meeting last year: 202 minutes.
Textures from previous, in-person town meetings that would have been impossible to replicate, or difficult to observe, Monday night:
•  the concessions stand under the northeastern overhang of the Holley Hall balcony.
•  handshakes, hugs and easy laughing over shared history.
•  motions, amendments, points of order.
•  microphones, microphone stands, microphone cords taped to the floor, Boy Scouts facilitating microphone use, and the way people always have to request that other people actually speak into the microphone.
•  the sheer tonnage of stuff that Bob Bernstein knows (Bernstein did not attend Monday night, the Independent is sorry to report).
•  knitting (it has become a tradition for Addy Indy photographers to seek out knitters at town meetings).
•  clapping.
•  the soft, warm lighting in Holley Hall and the strip lights running along the balcony railing.
•  the “Town Meeting Stance”: standing, microphone in one hand, folded-back printed report in the other, head tilted back at a reading-glasses angle.
•  how the Independent reporter, in recent years, after being directed to sit in the balcony, always snuck downstairs after the proceedings began, and found an empty seat nearer the front to get closer to the action.
•  flannel shirts, fleece, vests, hand-knitted caps, and the wet soles of sensible boots.
•  selectboard member John “Peeker” Heffernan’s Hawaiian shirts: in 2020, a wine-colored shirt with big white flowers; in 2019 a purple shirt with big white flowers; in 2018 a pink/purple/orange/yellow/black shirt, some of whose shapes were probably flowers. (Credit goes to Jim Quaglino for pointing out on Monday might that Heffernan was wearing a boring old sweatshirt. “It’s cold in my house,” Heffernan replied, laughing.)
•  the awkward but friendly way people stay afterward to stack chairs onto rolling chair-stack carts.
Still, on Monday night you could tell that the Zoom attendees had somehow brought these tiny past-town-meeting things with them, like an extra garment of knowingness and hope.
And Monday night was not without its funny moments, such as the following exchange between selectboard members Michelle Perlee and Joel Bouvier:
Perlee: Article 4. Will the voters set the salaries that shall be paid to the members of the selectboard at the same as—
Bouvier: No.
Perlee: (…)
Bouvier: No, I interrupted you on Article 4. I don’t think you finished it.
Perlee: (pause) No, you interrupted me on Article 3. I just started reading Article 4.
Bouvier: I think I interrupted you on Article 3 and I don’t think you finished it.
Perlee: Yeah I did.
Bouvier: (something inaudible)
Perlee: Oh, OK. You’re right. Article 3. Stop interrupting me. (Laughs.) I lose my place.
•  Fred Baser. “It’s my job to help you get through this meeting and make the decisions that you would like to concerning the articles, and do it in a polite and courteous way,” said Bristol Town Meeting Moderator Fred Baser at the beginning of last year’s town meeting. It’s a job the urbane Baser was particularly well-suited for and performed with distinction for three decades.
Baser’s talents were not required this year, sadly, and he did not run for re-election.
On Monday night the selectboard paused a moment to thank him for his service.
“We’re sorry to see him go,” Perlee said. “He was very good at that job.”
•  Northeast Addison Television (NEAT). Mary Arbuckle and Shawn Kimball have made invaluable contributions to the public welfare, not just during the pandemic, but as a matter of course, day in and day out. NEAT is an essential component to our local democracy and its work deserves as much support as the public is able to give it.
•  Peter A. Diminico, 1949–2020, to whom the town of Bristol dedicated its 2020 Town Report.
Among Diminico’s many civic contributions:
•  co-founding the Bristol Conservation Commission.
•  helping install Bristol’s universal fishing platform on the New Haven River.
•  founding the New Haven River Anglers Association.
•  serving on the board of the Addison County River Watch Collaborative.
“Pete regularly expressed his love for rivers and streams and hoped that he would have a lasting, positive impact on the health of Vermont’s rivers and streams,” Bristol officials wrote. “The Bristol community will be forever grateful for his influence and contributions.”
Reach Christopher Ross at

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