1. Information about time and place of
regular meeting must be publicly available. The time and place for
regular meetings of any public body may be designated by charter,
regulation, ordinance, bylaw, or resolution and this information must
be made available to the public upon request. 1 V.S.A.
§31(c)(1). Many selectboards and schoolboards establish their regular
meeting schedule by a resolution at the first organizational meeting
after election at Town Meeting. Once established, the board does not
have to "warn" each regular meeting, although the board must make the
agenda available to the news media or any person upon request prior to
the meeting. Many towns have a practice of posting the agenda and
distributing it to the media on a regular basis.
2. A board may change its regular meeting
time and place as it wishes. A board can change its regular
meeting schedule by adopting a new resolution at any time. The law
does not limit the designation to the organizational meeting. However,
when a board has changed the schedule in this way it should make some
effort to let the public know so that the people who regularly come to
these meetings are not caught off-guard.
3. Special meetings must be publicly
announced within 24 hours of the meeting. If a public body needs
to hold a special meeting between its regularly scheduled meetings,
the time, place, and purpose of the special meeting must be publicly
announced at least 24 hours before the meeting. 1 V.S.A.§312(c)(2). A
notice containing the time, place and purpose of the meeting must be
posted in or near the municipal clerk’s office, and in at least two
other public places in the municipality at least 24 hours before the
meeting. Notice must also be given either orally or in writing to each
member of the public body at least 24 hours before the meeting;
however, a member can waive notice. Committees appointed by public
bodies must also comply with the open meeting law including this
warning of special meetings.
4. Public bodies cannot conduct a public
meeting "online". Someday online public meetings might be common.
At this time it would be hard for most, if not all of our towns to
meet the requirements of the open meeting law using web conferencing.
The open meeting law requires meetings to be accessible to the public
so that members of the public can see and hear what is going on, and
be heard by the board. In order for web conferencing to work the town
would have to enough terminals at the town office for member/s of the
public to use so that they can observe and participate in the meeting.
Note that it is conceivably possible right now for board members to
participate in a meeting through web-conferencing – so long as the
board member can hear what is going on and can be heard by all
present. This is not so different than the current practice of
allowing board members to participate in a meeting by a speakerphone.
1 V.S.A. §312
5. Delinquent tax penalty applies only to
final due date. In towns that collect taxes by installment, unless
a town has a charter provision that provides otherwise, the delinquent
tax collector cannot add the 8% penalty to installment payments, but
only to the final payment of the year. 32 V.S.A. §1674(b).
Several Chittenden county towns have charters that allow the Town to
collect the 8% penalty in addition to interest on each installment.
Town’s without more generous charter provisions can only assess
interest on a late installment payment.
6. The 8% penalty for a delinquent tax
payment can only be charged or assessed once on the full amount that
is delinquent. A delinquent tax collector can choose to accept
partial payment of taxes – or not. If the collector accepts partial
payments the best practice is to take a proportionate share of the
payment as penalty, interest and principal. In this way the 8% penalty
will be taken only once on the principal owed, and interest will
continue to accrue on the overdue principal amounts. But in every case
the collection fee is only ever 8% on the initial tax due and it is
collected only once.
7. Only the delinquent tax collector can
waive all or part of the penalty on delinquent taxes. When a town
has an elected delinquent tax collector only the collector can decide
to charge less than the 8% penalty. The selectboard or the voters
cannot vote to charge delinquent taxpayers less than this amount. 32
VSA § 1674(2) provides "on all taxes collected after the expiration of
the time established in the notice required by [law] the collector
shall be allowed to charge and collect from the taxpayer a commission
of eight per cent on the amount of the tax." Because the collector is
an independently elected official the selectboard cannot control his
or her exercise of discretion in this matter.
8. Listers should make appointments for
visiting property. It is a best practice for Listers to call
property owners to set appointments to look at property to complete
listers cards for reappraisals. If listers show up unannounced
it is reasonable for the property owner to say that it is not a
convenient time and set an appointment for a mutually convenient
future date. If the property owner refuses entry to the property at
any time, then the listers must do their best appraisal without
entering the property. However, if a property owner subsequently files
an appeal of his listed value, the appeal must be considered withdrawn
by the property owner if the property owner refuses to allow the BCA
to inspect the property to determine its fair market value. 32
9. NEW LAW: New Voter registrations must
be to the clerk by the second Monday before an election. After
July 1, 2003, applications to the checklist (Voter Registration
applications) must be received by the Town Clerk where the applicant
has his or her legal address on or before Noon on the second MONDAY
before an election. 17 V.S.A.§2144(a) and (b). If you are
assisting in a voter registration drive, please make certain that all
applications are in the offices of the Town Clerks before the
10. NEW LAW: Clerks can add names to the
checklist without BCA approval. After July 1, 2003, the Town or
City Clerk may add names to the checklist without a meeting of the
Board of Civil Authority. 17 V.S.A. §2144(b). This change was
made in Vermont law in order to implement the federal Help America
Vote Act that requires that names be added to the checklist on an
expedited basis in order to maintain a statewide voter checklist. If a
town clerk does not believe that an applicant meets the eligibility
requirements, the clerk must promptly forward the application to the
board of civil authority for action. The board of civil authority will
continue to participate in purging the checklist.
11. Meeting minutes can be brief.
Minutes of a meeting of a public body should not attempt to be a
transcript of the meeting or a complete restatement of all public
discussion at the meeting. 1 V.S.A. §312. The law requires only
that minutes include the names of everyone who participates, the
subjects discussed, motions made and actions taken. It is good
practice to keep the minutes short and sweet so that the public can
tell what action was taken at the meeting. Too much detail can cause
citizens and/or board members to spend more time at meetings debating
the accuracy of the "transcriptions" and dialogue recorded in minutes
of past meetings, than on the new action items.
12. A town may vote to increase board
membership from three to five, and in some cases vote to fill those
positions at the same meeting. When a town votes its officers on
the floor it may conduct a vote to increase the number of board
members from three to five, and then take nominations from the floor
and vote to fill those positions. However, when a town votes its
officers by Australian Ballot it must conduct two elections. The first
vote would be to increase the size of the board. The second election
would be held to elect to fill the newly created vacancies. The motion
to increase the size of the board could include language that
specifies that the new positions will not become effective until the
next town meeting. 17 V.S.A. § 2650.
13. Listers meetings must be open to the
public – but listers can work outside of board meetings. When
listers meet it must be at a publicly noticed special or regular
meeting of the board. However, the law permits listers to perform site
visits and clerical work outside of board meetings. The law also
provides that "routine day-to-day administrative matters that do not
require action by the public body, may be conducted outside a duly
warned meeting, provided that no money is appropriated, expended, or
encumbered." 1 V.S.A. § 312(g).
14. There is no recall or revote
of elected officials. There is no Vermont law that permits the
voters to recall an elected official or have a revote of an election
of an official. In one town a board member was elected to office but
never came to a meeting. The other board members could request his
resignation – but they had no power to force him to resign.
15. Election can be contested in Superior
Court. The only way to challenge or contest an election of an
officer is by filing a petition with the appropriate Superior Court
within 15 days following the elecion. 17 V.S.A. §2603. This requires
the petitioner to allege either errors sufficient to change the
outcome of the election, fraud in the process sufficient to change the
result, or that for any other reason, the election is not valid.
16. Election officials must ensure that no
campaign materials are in the voting booths. It is the up to the
officials running the election to ensure that the voter takes all
campaign materials out of the voting booth. 17 V.S.A. § 2508 (a)(1). A
failure to do this in every case will not be enough to have the
election overturned. However, if you have evidence that the names were
in the booths for many hours - that might convince a court to act.
17. A Lister/JP may not hear tax appeals.
When a lister is also a Justice of the Peace for a town the lister
may participate in tax appeals as a lister – but may never sit as a
member of the board of civil authority(BCA). This is because the BCA
judges the work of the listers as it makes its decision on tax appeal.
The law prohibits a person to act as a judge in a quasi-judicial
matter where he or she has a real or financial interest in the
outcome. 12 V.S.A. § 61.
18. Lister should not discuss grievance
with landowner until grievance hearing. The listers act as a
quasi-judicial board when they meet to hear grievances. 32 V.S.A. §
4222. For that reason, they must be careful to follow all ethical
rules including the prohibition against hearing grievances of
relatives or close friends or, discussing individual cases with the
landowner or others outside of the grievance process, and prior to the
determination. 12 V.S.A. § 61.
19. On premise signs limited by state law.
10 V.S.A. § 493 provides that "owners or occupants of real
property may erect and maintain on the property, on-premise signs
advertising the sale or lease of the property or activities being
conducted on the property." That being said, those signs cannot have a
total area of more than one hundred fifty square feet, and must
advertise activities being conducted on the same premises. A sign
advertising the sale or lease of real estate by the owner or an agent
may not have an area of more than six square feet The law also
provides that an on-premise sign may not be located more than fifteen
hundred feet from a main entrance from the highway to the activity or
20. Local sign ordinance may provide
stricter rules than state law. Vermont’s state sign law
specifically provides that the state law will not supersede the
provisions of any local ordinances whose requirements are more strict
than those of the state law, so long as the provisions are not
inconsistent. 10 V.S.A. § 505.
21. Political signs are permitted in the
state highway right of way for up to two weeks. The state
prohibits the placement of most signs in the state highway right of
way. However, an exemption to the law applies to signs that announce
"an auction, or a campaign, drive or event of a civic, philanthropic
or religious organization." These signs may be maintained for not more
than two weeks. 10 V.S.A. § 494(9), 495(e).
22. Selectboard member can serve on the
zoning board. There is no legal conflict of interest between the
office of selectboard and that of zoning board. Indeed, it is the not
unusual for selectboard members to serve on the zoning board as well.
Selectboard members who are members of the zoning board should not
participate in any discussion of compensation for the zoning board. In
addition, if there is a quorum of the selectboard serving on any other
board, including the zoning board, they must refrain from discussing
issues that are outside the subject of the zoning board – selectboard
matters must only be discussed in a public meeting of the selectboard
(or an executive session of that board.)
23. Cemetery Commission may not limit who
may conduct burials. State law does not give the cemetery
commission the authority to limit who can do burials in the town
cemetery so long as the business complies with the rules of the
cemetery. The commission may make reasonable rules for the use, care
and management of the cemetery. This power probably would not permit
the commission to identify what funeral homes or crematoria are
permitted to bury people in the cemetery. However, the commission can
establish rules that require all funeral homes and crematoria who
conduct burials to be licensed by the state, and the commission can
require these businesses to follow the particular rules of the
cemetery. If they fail to do so, then the commission could reasonably
prevent them from conducting burials at the cemetery. 18 V.S.A. §
24. Selectboard can request fence viewer
to examine fences and divide costs between landowners. Upon
request of the selectboard, the fence viewers shall examine fences
within the town and must determine who is responsible for maintaining
the fence dividing two parcels. 24 V.S.A. § 3810. When the land is
being pastured without a division fence by both adjoining property
owners then the fence viewer can be asked to decide how many animals
each can put on the land. 24 V.S.A. § 3804. The fence viewer can also
determine where a fence should be placed if the fence cannot be placed
along the property line because of water or other impediments, and the
owners can not agree on where it should be built. The fence viewer may
not decide a boundary line or decide on ownership of land. 24
V.S.A. § 3802. See Camp v. Camp, 59 Vt. 667 (1887); Shaw v.
Gilfillan, 22 Vt. 565 (1850).
25. Fence viewer cannot require landowner
or occupant to pay for fence if he/she keeps no livestock. In 1989
the Vermont Supreme Court found 24 V.S.A. § 3802 unconstitutional.
Section 3802 requires abutting landowners to pay a portion of the
costs to maintain a fence that separates his or her property from the
neighboring parcel. Choquette v. Perrault, 153 Vt. 45 (1989).
The court reasoned that the change in land use patterns in Vermont
means that the fence law more and more often applies to landowners
without livestock. The court concluded that in such situations the
fence law is burdensome, arbitrary and confiscatory, and is thus,
unconstitutional. For this reason, the fence viewer can only require
the landowner or occupant who owns livestock to pay the cost of
maintaining the fence.
26. Appeals from decisions of fence
viewers must be made within two hours of the decision. It is a
little know fact that the shortest period for bringing appeal
is from decisions of the fence viewer. Vermont law permits fence
viewer decisions to be appealed to the district or superior court –
but only if the appeal is taken within two hours of the rendition of
the decision. 24 V.S.A. § 3810.
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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