Powden claims ‘no intentional violation’ in Telegraph open meeting complaint

© 2018 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

After approving a budget and re-adopting the “limited school transfer program” at its Jan. 17 meeting, the Green Mountain Unified School District board turned its attention to a complaint by The Chester Telegraph alleging that the during the recent run up to the budget the board had twice violated Vermont’s Open Meeting Law.

Powden reads from a statement concerning The Telegraph’s complaint. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Superintendent Meg Powden read a statement written with the help of supervisory union lawyer Chris Leopold,  claiming – among other things – that there was no “intentional” violation of the statute, but saying that the motions to enter the executive session could have been worded better and that they should have been two-step motions beginning with a motion finding that “the premature knowledge” of the matter being discussed would put the board or the person’s being discussed at a substantial disadvantage.

The statement did agree with two of The Telegraph’s suggestions for avoiding such instances noting:

“This complaint does highlight the need for us to improve in two areas, warning for public comment and being more descriptive as to why the Board is entering into Executive Session. At times the Public Comment item has been left off the agenda (as it was for tonight’s Finance Committee meeting). It was clear it was intended to be there because we went from item II to item IV on the agenda. Also, our Board Chairs typically recognize the public throughout our meetings but we need to make sure Public Comment is on every warned meeting.”

At Wednesday’s meeting The Telegraph contended that the “premature knowledge” exemption would not apply either since a premature knowledge of staff reductions would not harm the school board and learning about possible dismissal would not harm the employees in question. To the contrary, anyone who might be downsized by the school would have an interest in knowing about it, if only to plan and seek other employment.

Executive sessions are among trust issues

At Tuesday night’s joint meeting of the  Cavendish and Chester-Andover Elementary boards  much of the discussion revolved around issues of trust in the operation of the supervisory union. Attendees were concerned that the school system is looking to shut down Cavendish Elementary School.

While board members who served on the Act 46 merger study committee assured the crowd that it was never their intention to close the school, the elimination of the Cavendish principal’s position in the budget and the agenda item for discussing adding sixth graders to the middle school at Green Mountain, among others, left them wary. While the principal’s position was restored in the 2019 budget, Powden told the crowd that it was an interim position.

Cavendish resident Christine Balch pointed to the closed door session held by the Finance Committee of the new district. “There was no legitimate legal reason for that executive session,” she said. “This lends itself to an image that you are not being transparent.”

In addition to the suggestions mentioned by Powden, The Telegraph also urged the superintendent to provide the board with training on transparency issues including the Open Meeting Law and the Public Records Act. In the past, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns had provided such training for the Chester Select Board. An Aug. 24, 2016 open meetings law training session with VLCT’s Garrett Baxter is currently available on the SAPA-TV website.


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Filed Under: Act 46CavendishChesterEducation NewsLatest NewsTwo Rivers Supervisory Union agenda

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