Vermont Open Meetings

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(Last updated September 25, 2023)

Where can the law be found? Vermont’s Open Meetings Law (OML) is found at Sections 310 to 314 of Title 1 of Vermont’s Statutes Annotated.

What government bodies does the law apply to? The OML’s declaration of public policy reads, “[P]ublic commissions, boards, and councils and other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business and are accountable to them pursuant to Chapter I, Article VI of the Vermont Constitution.” (1) Article VI of Vermont’s Constitution states, “That all power being originally inherent in and co[n]sequently derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.” (2) The Vermont Supreme Court has held the law protects not merely the right to know, but the right to attend, be heard at, and participate in public meetings. (3) A “public body” is defined broadly to include “any board, council, or commission of the State or one or more of its political subdivisions, … or any committee of any of the foregoing boards, councils, or commissions.” (4) It does not include advisory committees set up by the Governor’s office. (5)

What is a “meeting” under the law? The OML defines “meeting” as “a gathering of a quorum of the members of a public body for the purpose of discussing the business of the public body or for the purpose of taking action.” (6) It specifically excludes social gatherings of a quorum of members where public business is not discussed. (7)

When are agendas posted? Agendas must be made available to the public at least 48 hours prior to a regular meeting or 24 hours prior to a special meeting. (8) Public bodies may hold emergency meetings “only when necessary to respond to an unforeseen occurrence or condition requiring immediate attention,” in which case the public body will make reasonable attempts to notify the public prior to the meeting. (9)

When are meeting minutes required? Minutes must be taken of any meeting, covering “all topics and motions that arise at the meeting and give a true indication of the business of the meeting.” (10) At minimum, minutes must include the members present, the names of other active participants, all motions, proposals, and resolutions considered, and the results of any votes. (11) Minutes must be made available no more than five days after a meeting. (12) Any meeting that includes a public hearing where the public can comment on a proposed rule must be electronically recorded. (13)

Can members of the public record open meetings? The law does not explicitly grant citizens the right to record meetings. However, in its 2019 Guide to Open Meetings, the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office declared “the open meeting law … permit[s] members of the public to record or film public meetings, so long as this is not done in a manner that disrupts the meeting.” The OML gives the public the right to speak at public comment periods at meetings, with rules of order for such comment periods established by each public body. (14)

When can a government body meet in secret? Public bodies can move into closed executive sessions if, during an open meeting, two-thirds of its members vote to move into executive session after a motion stating the specific reason for the move. (15) The allowed reasons for moving into executive session include: (1) preventing substantial disadvantage in contract or labor negotiations, arbitration or mediation, handling grievances, discussing pending or probable litigation, or engaging in attorney-client communication; (2) negotiations involving real estate; (3) employment evaluations, provided that the public body shall make a final decision to hire or appoint a public officer or employee in an open meeting and shall explain the reasons for its final decision during the open meeting; (4) discussion disciplinary actions against a public official; (5) discussing issues involving a clear and imminent threat to public safety; (6) discussing records exempt under the state’s open records law; (7) discussing student discipline or academic records; (8) hearing testimony in a parole proceeding; (9) discussing information relating to a pharmaceutical rebate agreement; and (10) discussing security or emergency response measures. (16) Minutes of executive sessions must be disclosed. (17)

What can be done if the Open Meeting Law is violated? The Vermont Attorney General or any aggrieved citizen can bring an action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against members of a public body in state court alleging a violation of the OML no later than one year of the alleged violation. (18) Cases alleging OML violations take precedence on courts’ dockets. (19) Public bodies have 14 days to either respond to complaints they violated the OML or cure a violation by either ratifying or declaring void any action taken as a result of the violation. (20) The OML does not grant courts the power to declare an action taken during an unlawful meeting void, but rather only allows courts to grant injunctive relief forcing a public body to ratify the action in an open meeting. (21) Unless it finds that the public body acted in good faith or cured its violation of the OML, a court can award attorney’s fees to a prevailing plaintiff. (22) Members of a public body who are found to have willfully violated the OML can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $500. (23)

(1) 1 V.S.A. § 311(a).
(2) Vt. Const. ch. 1, art. 6.
(3) State v. Vermont Emergency Bd., 394 A.2d 1360 (Vt. 1978).
(4) Id. at (4).
(5) Id.
(6) 1 V.S.A. § 310(3)(A).
(7) Id. at (3)(C).
(8) 1 V.S.A. § 312(d)(1).
(9) Id. at (c)(3).
(10) Id. at (b)(1).
(11) Id.
(12) Id. at (b)(2).
(13) Id. at (a)(1).
(14) Id. at (h).
(15) 1 V.S.A. § 313(a).
(16) Id. at (a)(1-10).
(17) Rutland Cable T.V., Inc. v. City of Rutland, 163 A.2d 117 (Vt. 1960).
(18) 1 V.S.A. § 314(c).
(19) Id.
(20) Id. at (b)(2) & (4)(A).
(21) In re Petition of Acorn Energy Solar 2, LLC, 251 A.3d 899 (Vt. 2021).
(22) 1 V.S.A. § 314(d)(1-2).
(23) Id. at (a).