by Gazette Staff
HARDWICK – At its most recent Annual Meeting in October of last year, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) approved its “2023-24 VLCT Municipal Legislative Policy.” The policy covers a wide range of issues, including Transportation, Public Safety, and Housing. It also covers changes that the VLCT proposes for Open Meeting and public records laws. With the Vermont legislature now in session, some of the proposed changes may become law. VLCT is putting special emphasis on making remote participation at public meetings a permanent option under the law.
According to the 2019 version of “A Guide to Open Meetings,” published by the Vermont Secretary of State’s office, “Living in Vermont, we expect openness in government … One important foundation of openness in Vermont is our “Right to Know” laws, including those related to open meetings and public records. Together they are the most important public laws we have, because they allow us direct access to the decisions that affect us. A full understanding of these laws makes everyone a better citizen and makes for a more responsive and accountable
The guide adds that the purpose of the Open Meeting law is “to promote transparency, accountability, and better decision-making in government.”
In its 2023-24 policy statement, the VLCT proposes the following changes to Vermont’s Open Meeting law and public records laws:
1. applying the Open Meeting Law and Public Records Act to the legislative and executive branches of state government;
2. changing statute to increase the requirement for posting minutes from five days to ten business days;
3. making the remote meeting option a permanent feature of the Open Meeting Law;
4. changing statute to provide transparency and flexibility in how non-statutory public bodies comply with the Open Meeting Law;
5. robust funding to comply with Open Meeting Law and Public Records Act mandates, including the hardware and software to ensure their availability to the public and long-term preservation;
6. amending the Public Records Act to allow individuals or entities the right to request the same materials no more than twice during a 12-month period, and allowing a five-day initial response time; and
7. making permanent the option of posting legal notices on electronic news media to comply with requirements for open meeting, public records, and legal notices laws.
VLCT will not pursue all of these items with the same urgency. In its “2023 Legislative Preview,” the organization states that “A priority of VLCT for 2023 is that the legislature amend the Open Meeting Law to make fully remote meetings a permanent, voluntary option under 1 V.S.A. Chapter 5, Subchapter 2. … It is unclear how much of a priority this will be with the legislature this year. VLCT continues to hear concerns from local officials about the pending sunset of this temporary law.”
In the coming weeks, the Gazette will speak with town clerks and select board members in the towns it covers to understand the benefits and challenges of complying with the Open Meeting law as it currently stands, and to gather responses from town officials to the changes proposed by the VLCT. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions on this subject, please send a Letter to the Editor at email@example.com.