1. Library may keep custody of videos of board
meetings. No law would prevent the local library from collecting
videos of board meetings and then checking them out to interested
residents. So long as the legal record of the meetings – the minutes
– were kept by the clerk and made available to the public on
request, there is no reason that videotapes of the meeting could not
be kept elsewhere.
2. Listers may move office to a private
residence. There is no state law that would prevent the listers
from moving the listers’ office to a private residence. However, as
custodians of the records they must make the lister cards and
records available for public inspection at all reasonable times. If
copies of the property files were kept at the town clerk’s office
this requirement would be satisfied. In addition, meetings of the
board must be open to the public – even if the meetings are held in
a private residence. 1 V.S.A. §§
3. School board member’s spouse may be employed
by the school district. 16 V.S.A. § 558 provides that "a
member of a school board may not be regularly employed by the school
district or by a school district within the same supervisory union
or by the same supervisory union during the board member’s term of
office." This section does not go so far as to prohibit the spouse
of a school board member from being employed by the school. Of
course, the school board member would need to recuse him- or herself
from discussions that would impact his or her spouse’s conditions of
employment to avoid a conflict of interest.
4. Spouse of school board member may serve at
treasurer. Although the law prohibits a school board member or a
selectboard member from serving in the position of treasurer, no law
prohibits a spouse of a school board or selectboard member from
serving as treasurer. Indeed, the only incompatible office that
extends to a spouse is the office of auditor. The law provides that
"an auditor shall not be town clerk, town treasurer, selectman,
first constable, collector of current or delinquent taxes, trustee
of public funds, town manager, road commissioner, water
commissioner, sewage system commissioner, sewage disposal
commissioner or town district school director; nor shall a spouse of
or any person assisting any of these officers in the discharge of
their official duties be eligible to hold office as auditor." 17
V.S.A. § 2647.
5. One person can run for multiple municipal
offices. There is no limit to the number of offices that a
person can petition to be added to the ballot in a town that elects
by Australian ballot, and no limit to the number of offices a person
can be nominated for at a town meeting that elects from the floor.
However, if elected, a person can only accept and serve in
offices that are compatible (see the opinion below.)
6. A person elected to incompatible offices must
accept only one of the offices. When a person is elected to more
than one position in the town or school district and the positions
are incompatible, the person must resign from one of the positions.
This creates a vacancy which must be filled according to statutory
procedures. Note that in such cases, the runner-up or next
highest vote-getter does not move up or become the winner.
For town officers: the selectboard posts the vacancy within 10
days of its creation, and then appoints a person to fill the term of
office until the next election. 24 V.S.A. §961 and 963. For town
school board members: the schoolboard shall within 30 days appoint a
person to fill the position until the next election. 16 V.S.A. §424.
For union school districts: the clerk of the union district notifies
the schoolboard of the town which elected the original incumbent and
within 30 days the schoolboard shall appoint to the next election.
16 V.S.A. §706l
7. Notary commissions expire February 10th.
Under Vermont law all notary commissions expire on February 10th of
2007. This means that even notaries who are ex officio notaries
public must file a new notary application with the Superior Court.
Although ex officio notaries must file the required paperwork in
order to serve as a notary, they do not have to pay the $20 fee.
8. Ex officio notaries public cannot charge a fee
for notary public services. Town clerks, as well as other ex
officio notaries public are prohibited from charging a fee for
notary services. 32 V.S.A.§1403(b). Also, individuals who have
become a notary public ex officio, lose their notary public status
when they leave office. If a person wishes to continue as a notary
public, he or she must apply to the county clerks' office and pay
the $20 fee.
9. Public must be given an opportunity to
petition for a vote on a proposed transfer of municipal property.
If the selectboard wishes to convey municipal real estate, it must,
at least 30 days before the conveyance, post a notice of the terms
of the proposed conveyance in at least three public places within
the municipality, including the clerk’s office, and publish the
notice in a newspaper of general circulation within the
municipality. 24 V.S.A. § 1061. If a petition signed by five percent
of the legal voters of the municipality objecting to the proposed
conveyance is presented to the municipal clerk within 30 days of the
date of posting and publication of the notice, the board must call a
special meeting (or put the issue on the warning of the annual
meeting) to be decided by the voters. Note that there are some
exceptions to this law that apply to the control, maintenance,
construction, relocation or abandonment of highways, water, sewer or
electric systems, and urban renewal projects.
10. Selectboard can choose to put the question of
whether to sell municipal property to a public vote. As an
alternative to the procedures described above, the selectboard may
choose to have the voters decide, at an annual or special meeting
whether municipal real estate should be conveyed. If a majority of
the voters of the municipality present and voting vote to approve
the proposed conveyance, the real estate may be conveyed. 24 V.S.A.
11. Town property can be conveyed by agent to
convey real estate. Towns elect an agent to convey real estate
whose duty it is to sign the required deeds and documents on behalf
of the town. When the municipality has failed to elect an agent, or
the office becomes vacant or the municipality is not required by law
to elect an agent, the legislative body may appoint someone who can
act as an agent on behalf of the town.
12. Spot zoning must be avoided. In zoning
law, spot zoning is the singling out of a small parcel or a single
lot and zoning it for a use classification different from the
surrounding area and inconsistent with any comprehensive plan, or
zoning it to avoid a use permitted by existing law. Galanes v.
Town of Brattleboro, 136 Vt. 235. A town may rezone a small
parcel so long as the rezoning is consistent with the town plan. If
a town spot zones then the landowner or interested parties can
challenge the new bylaw arguing that it is unconstitutional.
13. Regularly scheduled meetings of the board do
not need to be warned. A board, at its organizational meeting,
sets its meeting schedule. This schedule needs to be available upon
request to the public. No additional warning is required. The law
states that "the time and place of all regular meetings subject to
this section shall be clearly designated by statute, charter,
regulation, ordinance, bylaw, resolution or other determining
authority of the public body and this information shall be available
to any person upon request." 1 VSA 312(c)(1).
14. Employees may take a leave of absence to
serve in the legislature if they give advance notice to their
employer. Vermont law provides that an employee who intends to
seek election to the general assembly and to invoke, if elected, his
right to a leave of absence must notify his employer of those
intentions in writing within 10 days after filing the primary
election nominating petition or taking any other action to place his
name on a primary or general election ballot. An employee who fails
to give notice to his employer as required by this section shall be
deemed to have waived his right to a leave of absence. Note that
this leave is WITHOUT pay. 21 V.S.A. § 496
15. Bond votes have different requirements from
other votes. When a town wishes to incur bonded debt to pay for
a public improvement it must put the question to the voters at an
annual or special meeting. To do this the board must first pass a
resolution that the public interest or necessity demands
improvements, whose cost will be too great to be paid out of the
ordinary annual income and revenue. In the alternative, voters can
bring in a petition to hold such a vote, but must get signatures of
at least 10 percent of the voters (rather than the usual five
percent) 24 V.S.A. § 1755. Bond votes must be by Australian ballot,
and the law sets out the specific form of the question to be asked.
24 V.S.A. § 1758. These votes also have greater public notice
requirements than other votes. Notice must be published once a week
for three consecutive weeks on the same day of the week, the last
publication to be not less than five nor more than 10 days before
such meeting, and notice must also be posted in five public places
within the municipality for two weeks immediately preceding such
meeting. 24 V.S.A. § 1756. Finally, the law limits the number of
times a bond vote can be put before the voters. A board "may not
submit to the voters more than twice in the same calendar year or
any twelve month period the proposition of incurring a bonded debt
to pay for the same or a similar public improvement." 24 V.S.A. §
16. Moderator should review Roberts Rules at
start of the meeting. At the beginning of town meeting, it is a
best practice for the moderator to review the basics of Roberts
Rules and the procedures that will be used in the meeting.
This helps voters to be able to participate fully in the meeting. It
is especially important for the moderator to remind the voters that
any person present can rise to challenge the ruling of the moderator
on any procedural issue, and have the procedural issue decided by
the voters present.
17. Moderators should not speak to the legality of an article.
It is the moderator’s role to manage the process and procedures
of the meeting with the primary purpose of seeing that the will
of the electorate is given effect, with fairness and impartiality to
all legal voters who are participating. Even a well-intentioned
comment regarding the legality or impact of an article could be
misunderstood as showing partiality for or against an article. If
there is truly no one else in the room that can answer a question,
and the moderator feels compelled to enter the discussion, he or she
should call for a moderator pro tem to take over, and step down
while the moderator participates in the debate. Usually, however,
there are others who can answer the question, or the moderator can
let the electorate decide how to vote on the article without any
18. Any voter can challenge a ruling during floor
debate. At a traditional floor voting meeting, any voter can
challenge a ruling of the moderator on "points of order" by
requesting that the issue be put to the vote of the assembled
voters. Many wise moderators will encourage voters to challenge a
ruling when they are in doubt by prefacing the ruling such as, "The
chair is doubtful, but will rule that …." This encourages a voter to
rise to challenge. Roberts Rules provides that any voter can rise to
ask that the ruling be voted upon by the voters present. It is
difficult for any moderator to know every rule and anticipate every
type of motion that may be presented. Roberts Rules thus allows the
majority of those voters present to decide what is fair and just
under the circumstances.
19. Moderator, not town clerk, is in charge of
all voting including paper ballots at a floor or open town meeting.
17 V.S.A.§§2657-2660. The moderator is the presiding officer and
shall appoint counters (from the legal voters of the town) to assist
him and shall make public declaration of votes taken including paper
ballot votes when required by statute or requested by seven voters
present. The moderator can ask the town clerk and BCA members for
assistance, but can also appoint officials from the legal voters.
20. There are separate offices for town and town
school district moderators. The town school district must elect
a moderator as the first order of business or by Australian ballot,
if the district has voted to elect all officers by Australian
ballot. Although the same person may serve as both Town Meeting
Moderator and School District Moderator, separate candidacies, and
in Australian ballot districts, separate petitions are required.
21. Reminder of votes requiring two-thirds
instead of a majority at town meeting. It’s a fairly short list:
Tax stabilization agreements relating to commercial or industrial
property (24 V.S.A. §2741(b)); and when Robert’s Rules requires
two-thirds for procedural motions such as motions to suspend the
rules, to rearrange articles, to cease or limit debate; to adopt
special rules of order; to allow a nonresident to speak after a
voter has objected, to close nominations; and to postpone to a time
certain (17 V.S.A. §2658).
22. Articles that are voted to be either "passed
over" or "postponed indefinitely" cannot be raised at a special or
future annual meeting without a full warning of a new article.
Likewise if an article is "tabled" (it could be removed from the
table during that meeting) but it cannot be considered at a
subsequent special or annual meeting without being warned as an
article for the new meeting. Voters rely on the warning to know what
will be discussed at the meeting.
23. When local officers are elected by paper
ballot during the traditional open floor town meeting, a majority of
all votes cast for any office is required for an election. 17 V.S.A.
§2660(b). The law requires that selectboard, listers and
auditors must be elected "by ballot." If a majority is not achieved
on the first ballot, voting continues. If no person has obtained a
majority by the end of the third vote, the moderator shall announce
that the candidate receiving the lowest number of vote in the last
vote and any succeeding vote shall no longer be a candidate, and the
voting continues until a candidate receives a majority.
24. In Australian ballot election the candidate
with the most vote wins. When local officers are elected by
Australian ballot, the person receiving the most votes shall be
declared elected to that office. (Plurality is all that is
required.) 17 V.S.A. §2682(c). Note that, if the person receiving
the most votes is a write-in candidate in an Australian ballot
election, the person must have received at least 30 votes OR the
votes or one percent of the registered voters, whichever is less. 17
25. Town clerk fees are part of the auditor’s
report. Town clerks are required to disclose to the public the
total amount of fees received as part of his or her compensation for
the preceding year within 30 days after the end of the town’s fiscal
year. 24 V.S.A. §1179. The law does not state how the clerk
shall disclose the fees; however, the auditors have an obligation to
audit the books of the clerk, so in most cases these fees are
disclosed as part of the auditor’s report.
26. Date of school meeting can be changed by the
voters. The voters must authorize the changing of the date for
an annual school district meeting by voting at an annual or special
meeting on an article: "Shall the ______________town school district
hold its annual meeting on ___________ ." 16 V.S.A.§422. The school
board cannot change the date on its own motion, it must be voted by
27. Union school district elections require town clerk to open
office for voter registration. If your town is a member of a
union school district, the town clerk must be open for voter
registration on the second Monday before the union school district
elections, and then must provide an authenticated copy of the
checklist as updated to the clerk of the union school district.
16 V.S.A. §706 provides the particulars regarding the checklist
for union district meetings. This section incorporates by reference
the provisions of Title 17 which require the town clerk to have
office hours on the second Monday before each election to allow
residents to register to vote.
In our monthly Opinions, we provide what we
believe the law requires based upon our legal judgment, years of
observing Vermont's local government practices, and Vermont Court
decisions. This information is intended as a reference guide only
and should not replace the advice of legal counsel.
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