FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | email@example.com
The New England First Amendment Coalition today opposed a Vermont bill that would weaken the state’s open meeting law and make it more difficult for residents to obtain timely information about their government.
House Bill 700 would allow state agencies and municipalities more time to post public meeting minutes around certain holidays, an accommodation NEFAC said is unnecessary.
“At a time when minutes can be drafted on a laptop and uploaded remotely to a website at any hour, we believe — as did the state legislature — that five calendar days is sufficient,” wrote Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, in a March 20 letter to Sen. Jeanette White.
White is chairwoman of the state’s Senate Government Operations Committee, which is currently considering the bill.
In the letter, Silverman noted that the current deadline has been in effect for many years without issue and that the law had been recently clarified to emphasize the urgency in which meeting minutes should be posted.
“Even small concessions can shift the focus away from the people’s right to know and begin to erode the principles on which Vermont’s open meeting law stands.”
NEFAC on Vermont HB 700
It’s also important to remember, Silverman wrote, that “prior to the Internet when meeting minutes had to be manually typed and hard copies posted by hand at town offices, there existed an even shorter deadline of three days. Not one public office has been prosecuted under the open meeting law for failing to post minutes — even under the older more stringent deadline.”
Silverman acknowledged the difficulty small towns with few employees may have meeting deadlines, but he emphasized the overriding need of citizens to be informed about their government.
“Meeting deadlines around the holidays can be a burden,” Silverman wrote, “but our emphasis on transparency is — as Secretary of State Jim Condos wrote earlier this month in honor of Sunshine Week — ‘an appropriately placed burden. The people have the right to know’.”
NEFAC frequently supports efforts to increase government transparency in Vermont. Most recently, the coalition published Sunshine Week reports on the state, criticized plans to limit the public’s ability to record court proceedings, and argued against a loophole in the state’s public records law that allowed government officials to communicate through private email accounts.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.