State's open meeting law changes prompt concerns

PERU - The changes to Vermont's open meeting law has caused concern to some Vermonters. The law was changed at the end of the past legislative session in May.

The law, according to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns was amended significantly in 2014.

Margaret Cobb, town clerk in Peru, said one of her biggest concerns is how this change will effect towns trying to develop their websites. Peru, with the help of the Snelling Center for Government, have been working on getting a website up and running. However, with the change in the new law, if a town has a website, all agendas and minutes have to be posted. Minutes, Cobb said, have to be up no more than five days after the meeting.

"The Vermont League of Cities and Towns said [in an email newsletter to town clerks across the state] if you don't feel you can get an agenda and minutes posted, you may want to eliminate you website," she said. "It's very ironic ... here we are getting together our website and the VLCT says maybe take it down."

The law states, "Five days after the meeting minutes must be available for inspection and must be posted to a website, if one exists, that is maintained or has been designated as the official website."

For a town like Peru, with town offices open only twice a week, Cobb said it may be difficult to get all the minutes and agendas posted by the time they should be. Cobb said she has no problem with government transparency, but that this change could possibly make it harder for Peru to comply with the law. However, they have decided to move forward and continue with their website development, she said.

Representative Patti Komline said there were unintended consequences with this law and other problems that have arisen. She said she will be working with Senator Dick Sears and others to address the issues this coming January in Montpelier.

John O'Keefe, Manchester Town Manager, said he sympathizes with these small towns the law will effect. Manchester, he said, basically has lucked out of being negatively effected because they have enough staff members to make sure their website is updated in the manner necessary.

"This strikes me as a Chittenden County solution," O'Keefe said. "The Legislature, quite honestly, focuses on municipal government which is the most transparent. I don't really see them focus on state [government transparency] issues."

O'Keefe said it is sad that some of the small towns who have worked hard to get websites up and running may now have to shut them down, because they cannot comply with the new law.

"You'll go to look up one of these small towns, residents [and visitors] will have zero access to information on the Internet," he said. "This law just kind of came out of left field."


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