|VERMONT SECRETARY OF STATE - Jim Condos|
|State of Vermont
Office of the
Secretary of State
Volume 1 Number 10
|Table of Contents|
is a lot happening at the Secretary of States office these days. With the help of
the Secretarys Town Clerk Advisory Committee, Deputy Secretary David Grayck and the
talented and supportive staff here at the office, we are working hard to make your lives a
In the next month some new publications will be in the mail to every town office in Vermont. The "Handbook on Property Tax Appeals" is a joint project with the Vermont Department of Taxes. It is designed to assist listers, the board of civil authority and taxpayers in understanding the property tax appeal process. A second publication, "The Law of Libraries" came about as a result of a task force that met to look at the questions that sometimes arise between town government and the public libraries that serve them.
For further information,
A Voice from the Past
ROAD RECORDS: PUTTING THE HOUSE IN ORDER
Land records are kept by the clerk. A deed comes in, the fee is accepted, a copy is made and inserted in the latest record book, and new cards added to the index. The deed then is enshrined for all time as a public record, for the entire world to see and read.
In a thousand title searches to come that deed will play a role. It will be read and criticized, for not being clear enough, for missing a witness or an acknowledgment, or for granting more or less than was intended by both parties, or cherished for being clear and precise about the boundaries.
The act of recording, the rough dependability of the rule that people record their deeds soon after the closing, and the various finding aids, from card catalogues to general indices, is an act of preservation that makes research and dispute resolution possible. It is the chronological history of the land development of this town.
Town Meeting Records are no less vital and accessible. The regularity of the series and the designation of a special book to contain the warnings, minutes, and miscellaneous municipal records have ensured a sound archive of the doings of the town.A sound archive is lacking, however, of many town's road records, and this is a continuing disappointment. In spite of the careful tending of deeds and town meeting minutes, the records of orders laying out, altering and discontinuing town highways have not always been treated with proper respect. Some have been lost. Unless the town has a Town Roads book, they may be found in different places among the land records or in the town meeting record book. Rarely are they indexed, and seldom are they identified by present day road names and Town Highway numbers.
It's a lost archive, when it isn't accessible. Suppose you need to find the width of a town road or record of a discontinuance. Take a walk into the vault with me. Leafing through the town meeting record book, you see some road layouts and alterations. A couple here, a couple there, added when the selectboard acted on a petition or its own initiative. The words promise so much. There are the metes and bounds and distances for each jog in the road, but what road is it?
Often it's impossible to tell, because as precise as the description is you can't tell where it begins or ends. Rarely is there a monument to help - a town line, a hill, or another road. Many researchers surrender at this point. The dedicated press on. They trace the deeds of the property along the highway back in time, and compare the grantees to the petitioners. Occasionally a road begins at the southeast corner of one man's barn, and Beer's Atlas is an essential source to find that barn and its owner at the time the map was drawn. Roads can be found, but it often takes a lot of effort - a lot of unnecessary effort. A road book ought to be produced in every Vermont town. Many towns already have them, but no town should be without one. In it, every road action taken in the town's history should be recorded and indexed. There should be places for the clerk to add notes, such as "Believed to be Nuthatch Road," or include annotations to other pages in the volume dealing with the same highway. Such a book is so essential to the proper running of a town. It's a wonder the legislature never required it in statute. A mandate shouldn't be necessary. Compiling it will, of course, be a sizeable job for somebody to complete, and the burden needn't fall entirely on the town clerk. It's a great job for a volunteer, a student or a retiree, ready for a good challenge. Selectboard members come and go, and even occasionally town clerks. Nobody remembers everything (and there's no reason we should), but the records go on forever. Just having them there, in the vault, is of little comfort when they can't be used without hours of eye-straining effort. Do you know where your roads are tonight?
"Voice from the
Past" by Paul Gillies
|1. Citizens Should Be Able To Rely On Meeting
Agenda. Under 1 V.S.A. § 312(d) of the Open
Meeting Law, the agenda for a regular or special meeting must be available to the news media or concerned citizens before the meeting. This rule ensures that interested citizens can hear and participate in the discussion of the public business. People who wish to attend the meeting have a right to rely on the agenda. This means that, ordinarily, the board should not discuss matters that are not on the agenda. Also, once the board finishes discussing an item of business it should not reconsider the matter later in the meeting, after the interested citizens have left the meeting, unless everyone present at the earlier discussion has been forewarned.
3. Subcommittee Of Board Must Hold Public Meeting. A working subcommittee of a board is itself considered a public body, even if a quorum of the board does not participate on the subcommittee. 1 V.S.A. § 317(a) defines a public agency broadly. The definition not only includes a board itself, but the committees created by the board. A committee created by citizens will not be a public body, even if a majority of the board is on the committee (so long as the work of the committee is not the same as the work of the public body.) This means that the fact that a majority of the school board also participates in the PTO does not make the meetings of the PTO meetings of a public body. Of course, the board members may not do the business of the board at the PTO meeting.
4. Town Meeting Moderator Ensures Purity Of Town Meeting Votes. Only registered voters of the town may vote at annual or special meetings of the town. While this is the law, making sure that it is so is, ultimately, the responsibility of the "presiding officer," that is, the town meeting moderator. 17 V.S.A. § 2656 requires the moderator to follow reasonable and necessary procedures to ensure that persons who are not voters of the town do not vote; however, the law does not specify what are reasonable and necessary procedures. In some towns, as people enter the meeting hall, they are asked whether they are voters and, if so, checked in on the check list and directed to sit in an area designated for voters. If a person is not a voter, then he or she is directed to a separate, non-voting seating area. This is especially helpful for towns that still vote articles from the floor. While this is a "reasonable and necessary procedure" it is certainly not the only way to ensure that only voters vote.
6. Boards Have Conditional Right To Hold
Executive Session When Considering Contracts.
8. Bylaws Implement Town Plan In Act 250 Proceeding. Under 24 V.S.A. § 4401(a), a municipality that has created a planning commission and has adopted a town plan may implement the plan by adopting, amending and enforcing zoning bylaws, subdivision regulations, shoreland bylaws, flood hazard area bylaws, and an official map. In Act 250 proceedings, the bylaw of a town may be used to clarify ambiguous provisions of the town plan. In re Molgano, 163 Vt. 25 (1994).
10. Road Foreman May Also Be Selectboard Member. To everyones credit, we regularly get calls about whether someone who serves on a board may be employed by the town. Last month we heard from a person who serves on the selectboard and who wished to be hired as the road foreman for the town. No law prohibits a selectboard member from also serving as the road foreman. However, since the road foreman is supervised by the selectboard, the situation can be a bit tricky. To avoid all conflicts of interest, the road foreman/selectboard member should recuse him or herself from all decisions that could effect the job of road foreman. This might mean that, in the middle of a selectboard meeting, when a topic concerning the personnel policy or performance of the road crew comes up, the selectboard member/road foreman should leave the room, or join the audience to make clear he or she is not participating in the decision.
12. First Constable As Tax Collector Of Last Resort. Under the general tax collection statutes, the town treasurer, tax collector, and town manager can share in various combinations the duties to collect current and/or delinquent taxes. A town may vote to elect a delinquent tax collector for a one-year term. 17 V.S.A. § 2646(9). The town may vote to elect a tax collector who is charged with collecting both current and delinquent taxes, for a one-year term. 17 V.S.A. § 2646(8) and (9). If a town has adopted a town manager form of government, it may also vote to have the manager collect both current and delinquent taxes, unless the town has voted to have the treasurer collect current taxes. 24 V.S.A. § 1236(10). If the town does not indicate how it wishes to have its taxes collected, for example, by manager or elected collector, the first constable automatically becomes the collector of current and delinquent taxes. 24 V.S.A. § 1529. In the end, when there is no else, the First
Constable is the tax collector of last resort. 13. Selectboards Must Allow Time For Circulation Of Nominating Petitions When Setting Date For Special Meetings Which Will Include Elections. Although special meetings require the warning to be posted 30 to 40 days before the meeting (17 V.S.A. § 2641 and 2643), if you are having a special election, dont set your special meeting date without consulting with your town clerk and the statutes. The selectboard must choose an election date far enough in the future to allow time for candidates to be officially nominated. This means allowing time for the selectboard to post notice of the vacancy, for citizens to become aware of the vacancy, and for candidates to pick up, circulate and return petitions. Petitions must be received by the town clerk on or before the 6th Monday before the election, 17 V.S.A. § 2681. Therefore the actual date of the meeting must be set far
enough in the future to allow all of these pre-election activities to take place.
15. The Selectboard Makes The Choice Of Whether To Use General Obligation Bonds Or Revenue (Special Purpose) Bonds For Funding A Public Improvement. When the selectboard decides to ask the voters to issue a bond for public improvements, the board has the authority to decide what kind of bond to request. While citizens may certainly advise the board at the meeting when the issue is discussed, it is the selectboard that ultimately decides. If the voters do not like the type of bond chosen by the selectboard, they may vote "No" and petition for a new vote. Before making a decision, selectboards should discuss marketability of both types of bonds with the bond bank or other knowledgeable consultants. Factors to consider will include: interest rates, size of the bonds, certainty of the revenue stream from the designated funds, and market conditions at the time of the bonding.
17. Elected Local Officials In Vermont Cannot Be "Recalled" By Dissatisfied Voters. A number of communities must be dealing with controversial issues, as weve received more calls than usual asking how a town can rid itself of a local official that has taken some unpopular stand. There are no recall provisions in Vermont statutes so that vacancies only occur by resignation, moving out of the municipality, or death. Of course, at the end of the officials term the voters are always free to vote him or her out of office.
18. Listers Grievance Decisions Must Be Mailed By Certified Or Registered Mail. The taxpayer has 14 days from the time the town has mailed a grievance decision to appeal to the Board of Civil Authority. If the taxpayer claims that he or she never received notice of the decision, the statute creates a presumption that the personal notices were not mailed as required unless the listers have proof of mailing (registered, certified, or official certificate of mailing from the post office.) 32 V.S.A. § 4111(e).
19. Reclassification Of A Highway Requires The Same Formalities As Laying Out Or Discontinuing A Highway. A town that wishes to reclassify a highway from class 4 to 3 (or vice versa) must follow the same formal notice, site inspection, hearing, report with findings, survey, certificate of opening, and notice to the property owner requirements as must be followed when the town is laying out or discontinuing a highway. 19 V.S.A. § 708(a). It may seem like a lot of work, but its the law. There are also special statutory provisions which must be followed if the highway passes through more than one town. A very helpful booklet was published in 1990 by our office and is slated for revision and reprinting next year. Limited copies are still available if you are considering reclassifying town highways.
21. Town Cannot Require Site Plan Review For Single Family Home. 24 V.S.A. § 4407(5) states that "as a prerequisite to the approval of any use other than a one and two family dwellings, the approval of site plans by the planning commission . . . may be required." Accordingly, by law, a site plan only needs planning commission review if it is for uses other than one and two family dwellings. The legislature has made a judgement that the community (through its planning commission) has an interest in making sure that there is adequate screening, parking, traffic
access, etc., only for the more intensive uses.
23. Board Of Abatement May Act By Majority Vote Of A Quorum Of The Board. Most municipal boards require the concurrence of a majority of the board to act. However, 24 V.S.A. § 1533 provides that only a majority of the quorum of a board of abatement is needed for it to decide a matter. Figuring out how to calculate what constituted a quorum of the board of abatement can be confusing. Like other municipal boards, a quorum of the board is a majority of all of the members of the board. Members of the board of abatement include the BCA (clerk, selectboard, justices), the listers and the treasurer. The number of justices depend on the size of your town - so presuming you have 10 justices, plus three selectboard members and three listers the total number of the board would be 18 and a quorum of the board would be 10. The town would therefore need ten people in order to convene the meeting of the board, but it would need only six to agree on a particular course of action. In the alternative, the board of abatement is deemed, by law, to have quorum, if a majority of the listers and a majority of the selectboard members and treasurer are present.
Opinions of Opinions
|A Brief Look at the Federal Fair Housing Act
It is easy to understand the need to have group homes to serve individuals with mental or physical handicaps. Understanding this need, however, does not stop people from reacting to what they see as a threat to themselves, or their families and property values when a group home is proposed in their neighborhood. Often this conflict spills over into the zoning arena. People opposed to group homes turn to the zoning process to keep out what they think are undesirable neighbors.
In 1988, the Congress amended the Fair Housing Act ("FHA") to prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of handicap. Specifically this law makes it illegal to use zoning statutes and ordinances to keep group homes out of residential neighborhoods. For example, a zoning ordinance cannot define a family as an unlimited number of related people, or five or fewer unrelated people, because this treats group-homes in a residential district differently from single-family homes. City of Edmonds v. Oxford House, 514 U.S. 725 (1995). Today, as a result, a municipality may still adopt maximum occupancy regulations, but these restrictions must apply the same to everyone within the zoned district.
For example, a zoning bylaw may require a minimum amount of living space, water and sewer capacity, or lot size within a district zoned for single family residences. As long as these requirements are applied across the board to every applicant and not just group homes, they can be valid under the FHA. When a group-home applicant comes before the zoning board, it will need to meet these requirements, just like any other applicant. What is prohibited under the FHA is two sets of rules within the same district--one for people related by birth, marriage or adoption, and one for unrelated people in group homes.
Our zoning statute provides in 24 V.S.A. § 4409(d) that a group home serving not more than six people who are developmentally disabled or physically handicapped is by right a permitted single-family residential use of property, except if it is within 1,000 feet of another such home. If a town tried to block a group home that serves seven people, it might not be able to under the FHA. The six people rule discriminates if a single-family house can have more than six people living in it as long as they are all related. It is unclear whether the 1,000 foot rule is allowed under the FHA because federal courts in other states have reached different rulings on the issue. For example, an ordinance requiring 1,000 foot spacing between group homes violated the FHA since it was adopted in response to opposition and fears about people with mental retardation. Horizon House Developmental Services, Inc. v. Township of Upper Southampton, 804 F.Supp. 683, affd, 995 F.2d 217 (1992). On the other hand, a statute and zoning ordinance prohibiting the location of licensed residential facilities for retarded or mentally ill persons within 1,320 feet of an existing facility did not violate the FHA since the purpose of the law was to promote group homes being spread evenly throughout numerous communities instead of having many group homes concentrated in one or two locations. Familystyle of St. Paul, Inc. v. City of St. Paul, Minnesota, 728 F.Supp. 1396, affd 923 F.2d 91 (1990). Until a Vermont court rules, communities should speak to their town attorney before they apply the 1000 feet rule in 24 V.S.A. § 4409(d).
The Opinions Zoning
Thursday, November 11, 1999
Office of the Secretary of State will be closed!
Wednesday, November 17, 1999
Vermont Public Service Awards
Fine Arts Center Auditorium
Castleton State College
For more information, please contact
Thursday, November 25, 1999
The Office of the Secretary of State will be closed both Thursday and Friday, November 25 and 26!
The following publications are also available on the web at http://www.sec.state.vt.us
(click on Home Page Directory and select On-Line Publications)
1. Getting on the Ballot: A Practical Guide for Social
For a copy, please call 1-800-439-8683.
|ATTENTION ALL Town Clerks|
Purging of Checklists
Election Materials Requests
Finance and Elections Division
ORDER FORM FOR ELECTION MATERIALS
MAIL SUPPLIES TO:
Town Name: __________________________________________________________________
Mailing Address: _______________________________________________________________
Person placing order:______________________________ Date ordered:____________________
Quantity Item Description
______ "Official Polling Place" signs ______ Ballot bags
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_____ Absentee ballot envelopes (inside kind with black
______ Tally sheets
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______ Applications for addition to the checklist______ Rejection of application for addition to the checklist ______ Request for absentee voter
______ "Notice to Voters" (in towns which have divided their checklist, advising voters to check
whether they have been placed on the right checklist. (17 V.S.A. § 2501(d))
Date filled: __________________________
Orders will be shipped on Thursday of each week.
Vermont Municipal Guide to Land Use RegulationA comprehensive and practical guide to Vermonts zoning and subdivision laws.
- the adoption, amendment and repeal of regulations
- the permitting process
- conducting board hearings and meetings
- enforcement of zoning violation
*Proceeds from the Zoning Handbook will go to support educational projects for local officials jointlysponsored by the Secretary of States Office and the Vermont Institute for Government.
Questions? Please call Linda Schlott at 802-229-5242.
Regular Price . . ... $50.00
Municipal Special ..$75.00
Municipal Special without binder... $70.00
(Municipal Special includes authorization to copy manual for board members)
(To make this manual affordable for municipalities, we are offering a "Municipal Special" that includes a limited copyright waiver to allow the town to copy portions of the handbook or the entire manual for individual officials and board members in the town. The municipal special will be sent to you in a three ring binder, or on three-hole punch paper so that you can put it into your own binder.)
To order your copy, fill out and return this form to the address provided below.
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Questions?Please call Linda Schlott at 802-229-5242.
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