Dummerston grapples with meeting-law changes
DUMMERSTON -- With some municipal officials removing their websites due to concerns over Vermont’s revised open-meeting law, Town Clerk Pam McFadden briefly wondered whether Dummerston should so the same.
But she quickly realized that the site, dummerston.org, has become an important tool for residents and officials alike.
"We benefit so much from that, for everyone," McFadden said. "It’s just not fair (to shut down the website)."
While the town website will not go dark, Dummerston’s elected and appointed officials and committee members are making adjustments in order to ensure compliance with the new law.
The statute, which the Legislature approved earlier this year, is a makeover that includes new requirements for posting meeting notices; creating and altering agendas; posting meeting minutes on municipal websites; and entering into closed-door executive sessions. The rules apply not only to Selectboards but also to municipal committees, which is why Dummerston’s committee representatives were invited to a recent meeting at the town office to discuss the changes.
"Everyone in this room falls under all of these rules," McFadden said.
While noting that financial penalties for violations don’t take effect until next year, McFadden said the law took effect July 1. That means meeting notices, agendas and minutes must be posted in a timely fashion -- for minutes, that means five days after a meeting -- for even the smallest committee.
In order to ensure the town website remains in compliance, town Treasurer Laurie Frechette -- who also serves as Selectboard assistant -- is offering to post committees’ meeting notices, agendas and minutes online "provided that those items are given to me in a timely fashion," Frechette said.
"I don’t want to chase anybody," Frechette told town committee representatives. "I don’t want to be the police person trying to get them from people. But I’m happy to take that off your shoulders, since you’re all volunteers and I’m not."
Selectboard Chairman Zeke Goodband warned that, if committees’ meeting notices and agendas are not posted online, "then you’ve got to reschedule your meeting, because you’re not going to be able to have a legally warned meeting."
In spite of the stringent new requirements in a law aimed at increasing transparency, some see flaws: Dummerston Selectboard Vice Chairman Lewis White balked at a "loophole" that allows a board or committee to change its agenda at the beginning of a meeting.
"I don’t know why they waste our time and their time doing this stuff," White said of the state’s lawmakers.
Many believe that, when the Legislature reconvenes in January for the 2015 session, there will be open-meeting-law changes due to a variety of concerns expressed throughout the state.
"I think our legislators are going to be interested in feedback, because this will come up again next year," said Dummerston resident Gail Sorenson, who serves on the town’s Social Services Advisory Committee. "We ought to document areas of concern or (areas) that we’re having problems with as committees, and there may be some changes."
In other recent town business:
-- Goodband said he would inquire about the possibility of increased Windham County Sheriff’s Office patrols on Middle Road due to complaints from residents.
-- Road Foreman Lee Chamberlin said a bridge-replacement project on Quarry Road at the junction with East-West Road is expected to start by early September.
Officials have said the project, funded by a $135,000 state grant, will close that end of Quarry Road for several weeks.
-- The Selectboard heard an update from Michelle Cherrier, who along with Lester Dunklee represents Dummerston on Windham Solid Waste Management District’s board.
Cherrier updated the Selectboard on the ongoing efforts to install a solar array on the district’s closed, capped landfill. She also spoke about the district’s efforts to adjust to Act 148, Vermont’s new waste-management law.
The law, which phases in new recycling requirements over the next several years, could drastically change the way the district does business. For instance, the district could switch from dual-stream recycling -- in which paper products are separated -- to single-stream recycling, in which all recyclables are collected together.
"Nothing at this point is set in stone," Cherrier said.
-- Resident Jean Newell, who also serves as both a lister and auditor, thanked officials for installing a new safety sign on the eastern side of Dummerston Covered Bridge.
-- Selectboard members expect to invite representatives of the West River Trail to provide an update and answer questions at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 20.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275. Follow him on Twitter @MikeReformer.
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