Published at 3:58 p.m., updated with court order document at 5:18 p.m.
Update: In a court order from Judge Brian Stern, the voting end time for the Oct. 21 CCFD budget meeting will be 9 p.m. A voting start time was not noted. Click here to view the order in its entirety.
3:58 p.m.: Judge Brian P. Stern solidified rules and guidelines for Monday evening's Central Coventry Fire District Annual Budget Meeting during an emergency hearing at Kent County Courthouse on Monday morning.
The hearing was requested by the firefighters' union in order to establish clear rules for the meeting that will take place at Coventry High School tonight at 7 p.m.
"We want to make sure things run smoothly tonight. There's been a lot of misinformation out there, as I'm sure you're aware of," said union attorney Elizabeth Wiens. "We want to make sure that the meeting is held in accordance with the charter and in accordance with this court's order."
In the past, motions made by voters have been considered in regards to budget or tax rate amendments during financial meetings, however Stern stated that due to the unique nature of the CCFD special mastership, he would not authorize changes to be made to the proposed budget.
"The board presented the court last week with a tax rate and assessment for approval to go on the ballot at the special meeting. That is the tax rate and assessment that is on the ballot to be discussed at tonight's meeting," ruled Judge Stern. "There will be no amendments or other things on the floor at the meeting to change that. This is an approved budget by the court to go to the voters. If there was to be an amendment, the board would be required to bring that amended budget back before the court, and we're certainly not going to be able to do that this evening."
"I agree that there should not be amendments from the floor," said Special Master Rick Land. "In a situation like this where you have a court effectively overseeing the operations of the district, the court process needs to proceed in an organized manner. If you had amendments from the floor, it would make for an impossible situation."
Other points regarding Monday night's meeting were addressed, including the validity of the CCFD Board of Directors' decision to appoint attorney Timothy Bliss of Vetter & White as moderator and whether questions or comments would be heard from taxpayers during the meeting.
The district's charter states the board president or in his/her absence, the vice-president, is required to moderate meetings. Despite this policy, the court authorized Bliss to moderate the meeting, which will include a period for comments and questions.
"The court will allow in this case the board to employ a moderator so long as the board is at the special meeting and is available if questions need to be answered from the public to the moderator," said Judge Stern.
"I support the board's decision to appoint a moderator," said Land. "I think it is appropriate in this situation. I used a moderator at my last meeting and I felt it helped the process move along more smoothly."
Union President David Gorman expressed concern about the lack of clarity regarding the starting and ending times for taxpayer voting.
"The time of the vote needs to be clarified as to if voters can show up at 7:00 and fill a ballot out or at 7:30, after the procedures, as well as a closing time," he suggested. "If somebody walks in at 11:59 and says 'Hey it's the 21st, I want to vote.', that clearly needs to be publicized."
Also unclear was whether voting will begin before, during or after the question and answer session, due the the number of public information sessions held by the Board of Directors in recent weeks.
"When the board (of canvassers) determines what time that is, if someone is not on the line to vote at that point, the voting will be closed," Judge Stern ordered. "Certainly if there are people on the line at that point, they will be allowed in and voting will be extended until everyone on the line has had the opportunity to vote."
Judge Stern suggested that the board of canvassers overseeing the vote consider closing the polls around 9 p.m., and requested that an order outlining a timeline for the meeting be filed with the court by 3 p.m. and disseminated to the public. As of 4 p.m. Monday, an order containing this information had not yet been provided by the court to Coventry Patch.