Open meetings law to be relaxed during emergency Temporary measures allow meetings to have no physical place, must include public by phone

Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Town meeting in Chester earlier this month.  Photo by Cynthia Prairie

Today, Thursday March 26,  Gov. Phil Scott signed legislation that will ease some of the requirements for access to the meetings of public boards and allow for more time to post the minutes of those meetings.

A statement in the law says it is the intent of the Vermont legislature to protect public health and to provide access to the operation of government. The statement also makes it clear that this is temporary through the duration of the Covid-19 emergency.

Specifically, it says that public body can meet entirely by electronic means without having a physical meeting place with at least one member present as the law has been the past. Neither members or staff have to be present at a designated meeting location but the body must make attendance by electronic means possible for the public. It must also publish information on how to access the meetings of the public body in all agendas and record meetings.

Finally, in the event of a staff shortage, the public body may extend the time for posting minutes from five days to 10.

Secretary of State Jim Condos, who has campaigned for transparency in government for a number of years, said:

“In the interest of transparency and accountability, we did advocate for inclusion of the requirement in the bill that at least school and select board remote meetings be recorded. Given the elimination of any physical attendance and the difficulties often experienced in using unfamiliar technology to access a meeting, we believe it is a necessary and not unduly burdensome requirement to preserve the public’s right to know.

“We also advocated to have all of these meetings at the very least have telephone access, recognizing that not all Vermonters have computers or the internet access or technical skills to attend meetings online.

“Overall, we fully support these measures taken by the Legislature and have recommended that the Governor sign the bill as soon as is possible. These changes will bring much-needed relief to state and local government public bodies and officials grappling with this crisis.”

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  1. Bruce Frauman says:

    Thank you for reporting this development, Shawn. In Londonderry, there has been a discussion of the importance of complying with open meeting law requirements versus everyone staying safe. It is good to hear the state may make it easier to do both.