Telegraph rejects TRSU account, remedy of Open Meeting violation Suggests informing members early, in detail about prospective executive sessions

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Telegraph has rejected the account and remedy of the Open Meeting Law violation given by Paul Orzechowski, chairman of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union board, contending that he did not fully address the violation and that the complaint remains unresolved.

Board chair Paul Orzechowski reacts as Superintendent Meg Powden says that the session is properly cited and that the board is not obligated to give the public anymore information. Photos courtesy of Okemo Valley TV

On May 7, Cynthia Prairie, editor and publisher of The Chester Telegraph, sent a complaint to Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Meg Powden and the members of the TRSU board alleging that they had improperly entered into an executive session on May 2, even after they were warned that they were doing so illegally.

The complaint specifically pointed out that to use the exemption for “Labor relations agreements with employees,” the board first had to conclude that discussing the matter in public would put it at a disadvantage. But in the course of covering school board meetings, The Telegraph learned that the board could not come to that conclusion because its members routinely did not know what sessions were to be about.

In the case of the May 2 meeting, The Telegraph confirmed that by asking each member of the board if he or she knew what the session was about. Five out of six did not. At that meeting, Powden told The Telegraph that the executive session was cited correctly and that, “I don’t think we’re obligated to give you any more information.”

The May 7 complaint gave the SU 10 days to respond by admitting the violation or deny it.

On Day 9 — Wednesday, May 15 — Orzechowski, Powden and GMUSD chair Joe Fromberger met with the SU’s attorney, Chris Leopold, to talk about handling the complaint, which would occur at a hastily organized video conference meeting scheduled for the next day.

Orzechowski admits violation by video conference.

At that May 16 special meeting board, Orzechowski admitted that the TRSU board had violated Vermont’s Open Meeting Law but as he apologized, he said that he — rather than the board — should have come to that conclusion. The law says the board should have made that finding. In addition, Orzechowski said that the meeting had been cited incorrectly, contradicting what Powden told The Telegraph during the May 2 meeting. Powden did not attend the May 16 meeting.

In a June 4 letter email to Powden, Orzechowski and other members of the board, Prairie wrote that while she appreciated Orzechowski’s apology, Orzechowski did not address the problems raised and that the paper considers the situation unresolved. You can read that letter by clicking here.

Prairie suggested that the SU adopt a policy of informing its board members of the subject of proposed executive sessions with enough detail for them to have an opinion on whether it is proper to exclude the public. Prairie also suggested that the information be sent early enough for members to have the time to consider the matter.

The suggestions fall in line with the Vermont Supreme Court, which has stated, “It is not unworkable for a public body to make a careful analysis of need before deciding to go into executive session. …” (Trombley v. Bellows Falls Union High School District No. 27)

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns offers an pamphlet on the state Open Meeting Law, with explanations, including when and how bodies can go into executive sessions. Click here for the pamphlet. See Pages 11 and 12.

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