At the last Selectboard meeting, my colleague, Matt Gadbois, asked whether the use of Front Porch Forum violates Open Meeting Law (OML). He referenced my post about the Town Forest, and the maple tapping contract approved by the Selectboard prior to my term as a member.
Since the contract was considered a “done deal” by the board and no longer a matter of public business, my view is that there was no violation of OML. It would be like posting a commentary on a decision made anytime in the past — two weeks, a month, a year, or several years. My commentary was an expression of transparency regarding an issue that the Board had approved and no longer considered a matter of business.
By Matt’s question is worth asking, reminding us of the gray area surrounding the use of email and social media. The question is whether or not a public business discussion involves a majority of the Board. The answer isn’t simple. There are a lot of, “It depends…” type of responses from legal experts.
Northfield’s own Joe McLean is such an expert. Joe grew up in Northfield and now lives and works as a municipal attorney at Stitzel Page & Fletcher in Burlington. I came across a video clip posted on Facebook April 15, 2015, from an education seminar hosted by and for the benefit of the Shelburne Selectboard while researching the question.
Obviously, I don’t want to violate OML, so I’ve taken it upon myself to climb up the learning curve. Most of my research has been through resources available at the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. But I think it was pretty cool to find my childhood neighbor from Freeman Rd/Homewilde Lane in the video. A full-length video of the educational seminar is here — I’m sure you’ll click right over to watch it, right? : )
I’m looking forward to hearing a legal response from Matt’s question. Part of my role on the Selectboard is to communicate and help make local government more transparent. If one member of the Board offers commentary in a virtual form, does it mean there’s an unannounced public meeting if the other Board members can read (but do not comment on) the post?
For the sake of transparency, I hope not. It would be ironic if the law which intends to provide government transparency actually prevents me from sharing news about current events before the Board.
Back to Matt raising the question, I have to say I’ve quickly grown to appreciate his respect for adherence to the rules of discussion. On a side note, I also appreciate David Maxwell‘s steady hand, professionalism, and leadership on the Board.
On the back-end of this site, I’ll have to block my colleagues from commenting on NatesUpdates in order to prevent a violation of OML. I’ll also have to block them on Facebook and Twitter. So if I say a good word about them, I hope a non-elected official passes along the sentiment.