1. Citizens who wish to be added to the checklist cannot refuse to
take the voter’s oath. When the Supreme Court struck down
Vermont’s durational residency requirement as unconstitutional, the
court found that the constitutional requirement to take the voter’s
oath was fine. A voter is only required to take the oath once (If you
move to another town in Vermont, you do not need to take the oath
again.) That being said, each citizen must take the voter’s oath
before being added to the checklist for the first time in Vermont.
2. Large commercial public events require state permit. The
organizers of a commercial public event or gathering expecting 2,000
or more attendees must apply for a permit from the Department of
Public Safety at least 30 days before the event is held. The
Department of Public Safety may grant the permit, deny the permit, or
grant the permit with conditions, such as providing a bond or other
financial security. 20 V.S.A. § 4501 et seq. If a town wants to
regulate smaller assemblies it must adopt a local ordinance. 24 V.S.A.
3. Town accounts are public record. The law provides that
accounts kept by the Town Treasurer must be available for inspection
by interested persons. 24 V.S.A. § 1571. If a citizen has
questions about town expenditures, he or she can visit the treasurer’s
office and review and copy the town accounts. 1 V.S.A.
§ 316. Note that payroll information is
public – although the treasurer should be sure to black out all social
security numbers and other personal personnel information.
4. There is no recall of elected public officials in Vermont.
No law in Vermont permits voters to recall an elected official.
However, a citizen who is unhappy about an official’s actions has some
options including:. discussing concerns with the public official and
arguing for a different course of action, trying to get others to sign
a letter or petition to the public official urging them to take these
concerns seriously and the asking to have the issue discussed at a
meeting of the public body. That being said, there is no statutory
means to force the official to change a policy or discretionary
decision. Voters cannot generally petition for a vote on policy
decisions left to the discretion of a particular official. If a public
official has failed to carry out a statutorily mandated duty, a
prosecutor or citizens can bring an action for neglect of duty 24
V.S.A. § 902, 13 V.S.A. §3006.
5. Town party chair is entitled to one free copy of the checklist
in the 30 days prior to an election. Vermont’s election law
provides that the party chairs of each political party organized in a
town can receive one free copy of the voter checklist in the thirty
days prior to an election. 17 V.S.A. §2141. Other members of the
public can request a copy of the checklist that must be provided at
cost upon request. The checklist is a public record that must be
provided without reference to the purpose that it is to be used for.
There is a law that would prohibit the statewide checklist – once it
is created – from being used for commercial purposes, but this does
not apply to individual town lists. 17 V.S.A. § 2154(b).
6. Incompatible office rules apply to villages. The law that
sets out incompatible offices for towns found in 17 V.S.A. §2647 also
applies to village offices. 1 V.S.A. §139 provides that the laws that
apply to towns in Vermont also apply to all municipal corporations
including villages. Just as a selectperson cannot be the tax
collector, a village trustee cannot be the village tax collector.
7. Village BCA differs from Town BCA. The Board of Civil
Authority of a village consists of the Justices of the Town who reside
in the village, the trustees of the village, and the village clerk.
Other Justices of the Peace who reside in the Town but not in the
village cannot be involved in administering village elections. 17
8. Village checklist comes from town checklist. A village clerk
must automatically include on the village checklist all voters living
within the village who are on the town’s voter checklist. 17
V.S.A. §2126. There is no need for the voter to apply separately to
the village clerk.
9. Appointed BCA members can only participate in election related
activities. Members of the Board of Civil Authority who were
appointed by the selectboard to increase representation for an
underrepresented party shall have the same duties and authority with
respect to elections as have other members of the Board, including
participation in the Legislative Reapportionment meetings and decision
every 10 years. 17 V.S.A. §§ 2143,1891-1909. Members so
appointed cannot participate in BCA functions that are not related to
elections, such as property tax appeals or tax abatement hearings.
10. Spending reserve funds is generally up to the legislative body.
If a town has established a reserve fund for a special purpose,
such as a reserve fund for highway equipment, the statute provides
that the reserve fund is to be under the "control and direction" of
the legislative body (i.e. selectboard or school board). 24 V.S.A.
§2804. Once a reserve fund is established and funded by town
vote, the board may spend the funds without another town vote so long
as the expenditure is for the purposes for which the fund was
established. If the legislative body wants to spend those
reserve funds for any other purpose, then the voters at an annual or
special meeting of the municipality must authorize the spending.
11. Elected officials do not qualify as employees for the purpose
of workers compensation law. Elected public officials, such as
selectboard members are specifically excluded from the definition of
"employee" in Vermont Worker’s Compensation and Unemployment
Compensation statutes. We have confirmed with the Commissioner
of Labor and Industry that ALL officials who are serving in positions
that are "elected" when originally filled, are excluded from coverage,
even if a particular selectboard member or other official has been
appointed by the selectboard to fill an unexpired term. It is the
category or type of position created by the statute that determines
the exclusion. Therefore Town Treasurer’s do not need to include any
officials serving in offices that are normally elected by the voters
for purposes of Worker’s Compensation or Unemployment Compensation.
12. Citizens cannot force selectboard to adopt an ordinance –
except for ethics rules. Vermont law does not permit citizens to
force a selectboard to adopt, amend or repeal an ordinance (except for
those governing ethical rules for local officials). However, upon
petition of 5% of the voters within 44 days of adoption of an
ordinance, petitioners can force a town vote to disapprove a proposed
ordinance. 24 V.S.A. §1973(d). If the voters disapprove the
ordinance, the ordinance ends. If the voters fail to disapprove, then
the ordinance takes effect.
13. BCA must take an oath before hearing tax appeals. Vermont
law requires that BCA members take an oath before entering upon their
tax appeal duties 32 V.S.A. § 4404. The
required oath for members of the board of civil authority who will be
hearing tax appeals is found in 32 V.S.A. §4405. Board members
should take the oath each year before beginning the first tax appeal
14. Charter provisions generally preempt general law. When
there is a conflict between a municipal charter and State law, the
charter will govern. That is because rules of statutory construction
provide that more specific statutes will govern over more general.
Aube v. O’Brien, 140 Vt. 1,
4, 433 A.2d 298, 299 (1981) (when two statutes are in conflict to the
extent they cannot be reconciled, the specific will usually
prevail.)Although, if reasonably possible the court will require that
both apply. Downtown Rutland Special Tax Challengers v. City of
Rutland, 159 Vt. 218, 221, 617
A.2d 129, 131 (1992) (laws relating to a particular subject "should be
construed together and in harmony if possible.")
15. Town only has those powers specifically granted to it by the
legislature. In Vermont, we have no home rule constitutional
provision, which means that a town has only those powers specifically
authorized by the legislature. Hinesburg Sand & Gravel Co. v.
Town of Hinesburg, 135 Vt. 484,
485-86, 380 A.2d 64, 66 (1977).
16. Boards must stick to special meeting agenda. When a board
calls a special meeting it must publicly announce, at least 24 hours
before the meeting, the time, place and purpose of the meeting. These
notice requirements are designed to alert the press and public to the
issues that are to be considered at the special meeting of the board
so that they know whether or not they wish to attend. Accordingly, the
board may only discuss the issues specifically noticed for the
meeting. 1 V.S.A. § 312(c)(2).
17. Open meeting errors can be corrected by ratifying board action.
In the event that a board violates the open meeting law when it
discusses and decides a particular matter, it can cure the error by
ratifying the action at a later meeting. The decision must be ratified
at a regular meeting where the issue is on the agenda or at a special
meeting of the board that is properly noticed. Stalbird v. Town of
Washington, 106 Vt. 213, 216,
(1934) (selectmen have "power of ratification" if they act in good
faith and for best interests of town as they see it): Valley Realty
& Development v. Town of Hartford, 165 Vt. 463 (1996)
(Invalidation of public action is often an "extreme remedy" that may
be inappropriate for the underlying violation.)
18. Clerk must record lien despite landowner’s objection. The
law does not give the town clerk authority to reject a lien submitted
(with proper fee) for recording in the land records. 24 V.S.A. section
1154 (a) says "A town clerk shall record in the land records, at
length or by accurate, legible photocopy, in books to be furnished by
the town: . . . (2) instruments or evidences respecting real estate;".
The fact that the landowner objects or claims that the lien is
improper will not alter the clerk’s obligation. This does not
give the clerk discretion. Indeed, it would be bad policy to ask the
clerk - a person who generally has no legal expertise - to make legal
judgements as to whether a particular lien or other instrument
respecting real estate is legally sufficient. For this reason the law
make it the responsibility of those who file the instruments to ensure
that they are legally valid - and if they are not, even though they
are recorded in the land records, they may have no force and effect.
19. Clerk must record copy. The general rule is that a clerk
must simply record a document when it is presented for recording. If
the document presented is a copy and not an original this presents
some problems since, once copied into the town records a person
searching the records will have no way of knowing that what he or she
is looking at is not an original document. Therefore, when given a
copy for recording, the clerk should clearly indicate in the margin
that the recording is of a copy. This will hopefully prevent someone
from being misled later on. It is up to the attorneys to decide
whether a recorded copy of a document has any legal force or effect!
20. Adverse possession rule is 15 years. Vermont law provides
that a person who possesses another’s property (or who uses a right of
way over someone else’s property) obtains title to that property (or a
legal right of way over that property) if their possession was "open,
notorious, hostile and continuous for the full statutory period of
fifteen years." 12 V.S.A. § 501.
Lawrence v. Pelletier, 154 Vt. 29 (1990). If the landowner has
permitted the person to use the property no adverse possession claim
can be made unless there is an express or implied revocation of that
permission. Note that it takes a court action to transfer title by
operation of this law. Only when the town clerk is given such an order
for recording can the grand list be changed to reflect the new
21. Public land cannot be acquired through adverse possession.
Vermont generally follows the common-law rule that a claim of title or
right by adverse possession does not lie against public lands.
Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts v. Town of
Sharon, 28 Vt. 603, 612
(1856). The principal behind this rule is that it would hurt the
public to allow adverse possession of lands dedicated to public use.
22. Municipalities can acquire land through adverse possession.
Although a municipality cannot lose the right to property through adverse
possession, the courts generally recognized that public entities,
including municipalities, may acquire land by adverse possession.
In re: .88 Acres, 165 Vt. 17 (1996).
23. Board must give notice before selling town property. If the
legislative body of a town or village wants to sell municipal real
estate, the legislative body must give notice of the terms of the
proposed sale by posting a notice in at least three public places within
the municipality and publishing notice in a newspaper of general
circulation within the municipality at least 30 days prior to the date
of the proposed conveyance. If the voters wish to vote on the proposed
sale they have 30 days from the date of posting to bring in a petition
signed by 5% of the voters to require the board to call a special
election to decide the issue. 24 V.S.A. §