Town Attorney Finds Weathersfield Select Board Violated Vermont's Open Meeting Laws

In a Special Meeting called on Tuesday, January 28 Town Attorney Nate Stearns addressed a complaint filed against the select board alleging Vermont Open Meeting Law violations, specifically board discussions being held via email and not in open sessions.

PDF Guide to the Law

The complaint was brought to the select board on January 6, 2020 by Ascutney Volunteer Fire Association Chief Darrin Spaulding. Following an executive session held on January 16, 2020 board chair Dave Fuller acknowledged the board had received two letters of complaint one addressing possible violations of Vermont's Open Meeting Law and the second directed at the conduct of former board chair Kelly Murphy.

Current selectboard chair Fuller said the select board had complied with the timeline prescribed in the Town's Complaint Policy in addressing the complaint and wanted to have the matter discussed in open session for the benefit of the public.

Town attorney Stearns reviewed the complaints and associated documents provided to him by the board and said roughly half of the 70 emails presented for review contained violations in varying degrees of severity.

In PDF Guide to the Law it states that "The following persons can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $500.00:
  • A person who is a member of a public body and who knowingly and intentionally violates the provisions of the open meeting laws; 
  • A person who knowingly and intentionally violates the provisions of the open meeting laws on behalf or at the behest of a public body; 
  • A person who knowingly and intentionally participates in the wrongful exclusion of any person or persons from any meeting. 1 V.S.A. § 314(a).
Stearns recommended the board get additional training on how to comply with the law. He stated that there appeared to be a general awareness of how the Open Meeting Law works, but additional training is warranted. Stearns stated that no votes were ever taken or decisions made illegally. The violations were mainly in comments being made privately via email rather than in open session.

The select board agreed that the Town's Ethics Policy should be improved to keep future board members from violating the State statute.

Reporter's Note:
This reporter has observed on numerous occasions that the select board violated the five day law for posting meeting minutes.

WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR MINUTES OF A PUBLIC BODY? Public bodies are required to take minutes. Minutes must at least include the names of all members of the public body present at the meeting, and other active participants, and all motions, proposals, and resolutions made, and their dispositions, and the results of any votes taken. 1 V.S.A § 312 (b)(1). Minutes are public records, which must be available for public inspection and copying after five days from the date of the meeting. Minutes also must be posted no later than five days from the date of the meeting to a website, if one exists, that the public body maintains or has designated as the official website of the body. 1 V.S.A § 312 (b)(2). Minutes are the permanent record of the formal actions of the public body and play an important role in recording the history of municipal business.

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