NEFAC to Isle La Motte (Vt.) Select Board: Privacy Interests Don’t Trump Open Meeting Law and First Amendment

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition expressed concern today about actions taken by the Isle La Motte Select Board that violated the Vermont Open Meeting Law and firmly-established First Amendment press protections.

The Select Board met on August 1 to address recent vandalism to LGBTQ pride flags. During the meeting, Select Board member Mary Catherine Graziano ordered the press to refrain from publishing the names of those who spoke at the hearing and indicated that the identity of those speakers would not be included in the meeting minutes.

“Those who participated in the meeting had little or no expectation of privacy and at least some of those offering comment publicly identified themselves,” explained NEFAC in an Aug. 3 letter to the Select Board. “In these circumstances, the identifying information provided publicly becomes part of the record and should be included in the meeting minutes. The information can also be reported by any news organization covering the hearing.”

The Vermont Open Meeting Law requires that minutes include all “active participants” in the meeting,” the coalition explained. The names of those who participated cannot be struck from the record.

As for Graziano’s directive to the media that no names be published, the First Amendment protections against such orders — a type of prior restraint — are black letter law, NEFAC wrote. The ability of journalists to gather and report the news without government interference is firmly entrenched in our constitution — especially when the newsworthy event occurs in a public forum.

“As members of a public body, you encounter many competing interests and we acknowledge this often diffi- cult balancing act,” NEFAC wrote. “When it comes to privacy interests, however, orders simply cannot be made during public meetings that violate state law or the First Amendment rights of the press.”

NEFAC drafts and signs onto amicus briefs, letters and statements addressing important First Amendment issues in all New England states and on the national level. Recent advocacy involved the right to document police activity, the release of law enforcement misconduct records on state FOI laws, strategic lawsuits against public participation, and the ability of citizens to attend government meetings remotely during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Read all NEFAC letters and briefs.

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.

Leadership Circle donors include the Rhode Island Foundation, Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.