Editorial: Sunshine for Southern Vermont

By Cynthia Prairie
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

This week, we “celebrate” Sunshine Week, that annual effort by journalists and good government advocates around the country to raise awareness of the crucial role that open meetings and public documents play in our democracy.

Of course, for journalists, every week is Sunshine Week. And, over the years, The Chester Telegraph has been recognized for advocating that sunshine to our corner of Vermont.

Sometimes the public knows about our work in this field because it becomes part of a bigger story, as was the case recently when we lodged a formal complaint with Two Rivers Supervisory Union when it held executive sessions of the Green Mountain Unified School District to discuss staff reductions under the exemption that allows a board to discuss the evaluation and discipline of a specific employee. We claimed that since the GMUSD had no employees at that time, it had nothing to discuss.

At other times, ironically, what we do is behind the scenes as we help boards understand the processes so that they can adhere to the laws or offer a gentle reminder that their meetings were not posted or warned properly. Public embarrassment is a last resort.

While some public officials have complained that the laws are too difficult to understand or comply with, many others have worked to get a handle on their requirements. After all, the Secretary of State’s explainer of the Open Meeting Law is just a mere five pages. You can read that here.

Several years ago, the Chester Select Board responded to a Telegraph complaint by sponsoring a training session on open meetings with Garrett Baxter, a lawyer from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Since then, the town has held another session on open meetings and invited the select boards of neighboring towns to attend. You can view it on SAPA-TV by clicking here. 

With a greater awareness of the law, the Chester board has, by and large, taken its cue from the Secretary of State’s office and erred on the side of openness.  We at The Chester Telegraph are committed to ensuring that openness wherever we report.

But we can’t do it without you. You rely on The Chester Telegraph not only for news but to help keep our democracy strong.

You can support our work by through a financial gift. Your support is greatly appreciated. Please click here to learn more.

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Filed Under: CommentaryTelegraph Editorial

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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