1. Town manager has general supervision
of the affairs of the town. The town manager has general
supervision over the affairs of the town. The manager is the
administrative head of all departments of the town and is
responsible for the efficient administration of town government.
However, in all things the manager must act at the direction of the
selectboard. 24 V.S.A. §§1233, 1235.
2. Voters can set pay of
manager. The selectboard generally sets the salary of the town
manager. However, if the voters vote a particular salary, the
selectboard is bound by the amount set. 24 V.S.A. § 1239.
3. Town can vote to have manager collect taxes. The voters
can elect to have the town manager collect all taxes due the town
and perform all the duties conferred by law upon the collector of
taxes. Once voted, the manager will serve as the tax collector until
the voters elect otherwise. When the town manager collects
delinquent taxes he or she may charge and collect the same fees as a
collector of taxes that will be paid into the town treasury. 24
V.S.A. § 1236.
4. Tax sale is not the only way to collect delinquent taxes.
In one town no one bid on a parcel of delinquent tax property. The
town was also not interested in purchasing this property so the
Delinquent Tax Collector wanted to know if she had any other
options. Tax sale property is only one method of collecting
delinquent taxes. 32 V.S.A. § 5251. In the alternative, the
collector could take a variety of steps to recover the taxes:
Foreclosure: A foreclosure action is a legal action brought
in superior court to allow personal property (and real property,
if there is insufficient personal property) to be attached and
sold to satisfy the debt to the town. This action can only be
brought if the taxes remain unpaid for two years or longer, up to
15 years. 32 V.S.A. § 5061.
Distraint: Distraint is the seizure of personal property to
enforce payment of taxes. The property can be held and then sold
if payments of the taxes are not made. 32 V.S.A. § 5191.
Action at Law: An action at law is a collection action
brought in superior court which can permit you to attach property
or garnish wages. An action at law may also be brought in small
claims court. 32 V.S.A. § 5221.
5. Town should not have policy of bidding at all tax sales.
One town made the mistake of adopting a policy of bidding at all tax
sales in the amount of taxes, penalties and interest due. 32 V.S.A.
§ 5259. This policy resulted in the purchase of a mobile home of no
value, which cost the town money to remove. The best policy is to
have the delinquent tax collector describe, in advance of the sale,
each parcel to be sold so that the selectboard can decide on a case
by case basis whether it is in the interest of the town to bid on
6. Tax sale may include water and sewer delinquencies.
According to 24 V.S.A. §§ 3504, 3612 delinquent water and sewer
charges can be collected in the same manner as delinquent property
taxes. This means that when a person is delinquent in both taxes, and
water and sewer charges, all of these delinquencies may be combined
and collected together. Of course, the collector should set each
delinquency out separately in the notice of delinquency that is sent
to the taxpayer so they know the basis of each delinquency.
7. Absent voter’s ballot counts even after death. If a voter
who has requested an absentee ballot dies prior to Election Day, but
the voted ballot has been properly returned to the Town Clerk with
the certificate and signature completed by the voter, the ballot
should be commingled and counted with all of the other ballots. The
statute provides that absentee voters shall be treated as "present
and voting" on Election Day (17 V.S.A. §2550). Therefore absentee
ballots properly returned should be counted.
8. Petitions for municipal office must include office and term
length. In municipalities using the Australian ballot system for
election of officers, Vermont law requires that candidates clearly
indicate the office and term length on the petition prior to
circulating it for signatures. 17 V.S.A. §2681(b). For example, a
candidate cannot circulate a petition for selectboard without
indicating which term he or she is seeking. It is permissible for a
person to circulate two or three different petitions for selectboard,
one petition for the one-year seat, one for the remaining year of a
three-year term, and one for the three-year term, and then wait
until the filing deadline to decide which petition to submit to the
Town Clerk. However, a candidate cannot circulate a petition for
signatures without a term length and then add or change the term
length after signatures have been obtained.
9. There is no official clerk-treasurer position. In many
towns the same person serves as the Town Clerk and Town Treasurer.
Nevertheless, the two offices are separate and must be elected
separately. This means that candidates for clerk and
treasurer who are elected by Australian ballot must file a separate
petition and consent form for each position, and the voters must
vote separately for each position.
10. Town treasurer serves as school treasurer unless school votes
otherwise. The town treasurer serves as the treasurer of the
town school district unless the school district elects a town school
district treasurer. The town treasurer cannot decide to give up the
duties of the school treasurer; however, the town can appoint an
assistant treasurer to perform the school treasurer duties. For
convenience, the treasurer could consider appointing the school
district’s bookkeeper or financial manager as the assistant
treasurer. The treasurer will be responsible for the acts and
omissions of the assistant treasurer. 16 V.S.A. § 426.
11. Investment of funds is a joint responsibility. While the
treasurer has control over the accounts of the town; how and where
to invest the money (including decisions as to what bank to keep the
town accounts in) are a joint responsibility of the treasurer and
the selectboard. 24 V.S.A. § 1571(b) provides that "moneys received
by the town treasurer on behalf of the town may be invested and
reinvested by the treasurer with the approval of the legislative
12. The selectboard can get a credit card to make purchases for
the town. The selectboard can choose to authorize the use of a
credit card for town purchases. However, before the treasurer pays
the credit card bill the selectboard should review the purchases and
sign a warrant for payment.
13. Town treasurer should not make out checks without warrant
signed by the board. In one town the selectboard asked the
treasurer to bring already filled out checks to the selectboard
meeting prior to the board’s approval of the individual
expenditures. 24 V.S.A. § 1576. The treasurer was correct to
decline. Indeed, Vermont law only permits the treasurer to make
payments based on properly signed orders of the board or based on
certified minutes of the board, signed by both the board’s clerk and
chair or by a majority of the board, clearly setting out the amount,
and to whom payment is to be made. 24 V.S.A. § 1623.
15. Paper ballot voting is required to elect many local
offices. In towns that have not adopted the Australian ballot
system of voting for local offices, Vermont law requires the use of
paper ballots during the town meeting for election to the
selectboard, listers, auditors, road commissioner, and water
commissioners. 17 V.S.A. §2646. If at least seven voters support a
request that paper ballots be used for voting on any other article
during a special or annual meeting, then paper ballots must be
distributed and used. 17 V.S.A. §2658.
16. Local officials must receive a majority of all votes cast,
not just a plurality in order to be elected during an open (floor)
town meeting. 17 V.S.A. §2660. If no candidate receives the
majority in the first paper ballot, then another vote must be taken.
If no person has obtained a majority by the end of the third vote,
then the moderator shall announce that the person who received the
least votes in the last vote shall no longer be a candidate, and
continue voting in like fashion until a candidate receives a
17. Board may determine that committee executive sessions may
exclude non-committee members. When a board sets up committees
the open meeting law will apply to the meetings of the committee. 1
V.S.A. § 312. Committees may go into executive session where
appropriate. The law does not directly address whether a committee
may exclude members of the board from its executive session.
However, the board has the authority to establish its own rules or
policies about who may attend committee executive sessions. It may
be particularly important to have a clearly defined rule for large
boards that have personnel committees that conduct employee
evaluations. The law would permit a board to decide that only
members of that particular committee may attend an executive
session, or that any board member may attend.
18. Board member who discloses confidential information cannot
be kept from executive session. The law governing executive
sessions does not require board members to keep the discussions
confidential – although this is certainly best practice.
Consequently, there is no authority to keep any board member out of
an executive session — even if that board member breaches
confidentiality. Note that where a board member has breached
confidentiality – particularly in a personnel matter - it may be
wise to ask the board’s attorney to send that board member a letter
explaining the potential liability the municipality could face as
the result of the breach.
19. Voters may not petition directly to the selectboard for a
vote on a proposed zoning amendment. The law does not give
voters the authority to petition directly to the selectboard for a
vote on a proposed zoning amendment. Rather, such a petition must be
brought to the planning commission who is directed by law to simply
correct any technical deficiency, and then "promptly proceed" with
public notice and hearings, prepare a report as though the proposal
had been drafted by the commission and then submit the proposal to
the Selectboard. 24 V.S.A. § 4441.
20. Members of the public may tape meetings of the board.
The open meeting law permits members of the public to tape or video
tape public meetings of the board. The chair can set reasonable
conditions to ensure that the tape or video recording equipment (or
web-streaming equipment) does not get in the way of the meeting.
21. The age requirement for State Representative and State
Senator is not clear in the Vermont Constitution. In
discussions with staff at Legislative Council we agree that there is
no clear statement of age requirements in either the constitution or
the statutes today. However, the law is clear in Vermont that if
there are any questions about a person's qualifications to serve, it
is up to the House of Representatives to judge the qualifications of
its members (see 17 V.S.A.§2605), and it is up to the Senate to
judge the qualifications of its members. (17 V.S.A.§2606)
The consensus of several attorneys familiar with the General
Assembly is that if a person is 18 before the beginning of the
session, we think that the House or Senate would find that person
qualified to serve. If a person was not yet 18 in January when the
session begins, it is more likely that the House or Senate might
find that person not qualified to serve. However, this is just our
best estimation of what the House or Senate might do.
Our office does not have any authority to determine a candidate’s
qualification to be on a ballot. If petitions and a consent form are
properly submitted, the name will be placed on the ballot. It is
possible that the House or Senate may adopt Rules or that
legislation may be proposed to address the age qualification issue.
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.
Table of Contents | Past Issues
of Opinions | Secretary of State's Homepage
Tune-up for Towns
Does Your Town Need a Tune-Up? Part 5
(Excerpted from Tune Up for Towns, a publication of the
Office of the Secretary of State. To obtain the full publication,
visit www.sec.state.vt.us or call 802-828-2148)
You go to the dentist twice a year for a checkup, usually not
because you have a known problem but because you want to know if
there is one you haven’t noticed. Some annual checkup is also
probably done on your furnace, your car, and your dog. So why not
the town? Give your town a legal tune-up by reviewing the checklist
Last month we provided a checklist of items to consider to ensure
that you are following the legal requirements of Town Meeting. This
month’s checklist will cover considerations for Board of Civil
Authority. As with last month’s list, some of the items are not the
law; they are simply recommendations based on others’ bad
experience. The list below is just the start.
A Legal Tune up for Towns:Boards of Civil Authority
ž Are all Justices properly sworn on or before February 1
of the year following their election? Have all members of the board
taken the necessary oath prior to hearing tax appeals?
ž Does the board know and understand the conflict of
interest provisions of 32 V.S.A. § 4404(d) and 12 V.S.A. § 61?
ž Has the board elected a new chair following town meeting
each year? See 24 V.S.A. § 801. If members of the board have been
appointed to ensure political balance are you sure that they
participate in only election-related functions? 17 V.S.A. § 2143.
ž Are board meetings being warned at least five days
before the meeting, by providing written notice of the meeting to
all of the members of the board, and by posting a public notice in
two places in each voting district and by lodging the notice in the
town clerk’s office? 24 V.S.A. § 801.
ž Are the board’s decisions written
lucidly enough to explain to taxpayers and listers the basis for its
decision in a tax appeal? Try asking a resident who has no interest
in an appeal this year to read a decision and see if it’s clear
ž Has the board purged the checklist, reviewing every name
for continued eligibility (residency, in most cases) by September 15
of each odd-numbered year? See 17 V.S.A. § 2150(d).
ž Has the board reviewed its policy on the number of
voting booths, the time of opening the polls on Election Day
(particularly the Primary and General Elections), and the number and
adequacy of polling places recently?
ž Has the board checked all polling places to ensure that
they are fully accessible (including accessible bathrooms if there
are bathrooms available to the general public?)
on Holiday Displays and Municipal Property
Now that Vermont’s leading holiday season—hunting season— has
passed, the rest of the holidays will soon be upon us. Every year we
get calls from the public and from Vermont local officials asking us
about the guidelines that govern holiday displays on municipal
property. Although there has been a considerable amount of
litigation on this issue, there are no hard and fast "rules" about
holiday displays on public property. Rather, it will depend upon the
context of the particular display.
The definitive United States Supreme Court case, County of
Allegheny vs. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989). makes it clear that any
decision will be extremely fact specific and the outcome will depend
on the presentation of the various facts to the judge. In fact, in
Allegheny, the Supreme Court justices wrote five separate
opinions joined in whole or part by various members of the court
because the nine justices drew different conclusions based on the
facts as presented.
After the Allegheny decision, the judge must determine:
"would a reasonable observer of the challenged display in its
particular context perceive a message of governmental endorsement or
sponsorship of religion?" This means that not every municipally
displayed creche or menorah violates the Establishment Clause. The
issue now is whether a reasonably informed observer could identify the
display as a message of endorsement of a religion or recognize it as
a celebration of the diversity of the holiday season.
In a nutshell, we believe that if municipal officials wish to
permit holiday displays on public property, the physical display(s)
itself and all of the historical and cultural facts surrounding the
placement of the display(s) must support the conclusions that the
display(s) are a celebration of the diversity of the holiday and not
an endorsement of a religion.
The rules are somewhat different when private groups put up
holiday displays. In Capitol Square Review Bd. v. Pinette,
115 S. Ct. 2440 (1995), the United States Supreme Court
distinguished between privately sponsored and governmentally
sponsored religious displays on public property. Generally the rules
that will apply to whether private citizens may erect religious
displays on public property are as follows: private citizens may
erect religious or holiday displays if the property is a public
forum on which the government has permitted a wide variety of
expressive conduct, the members of the public follow the ordinary
permit or application process for use of the public forum, and
either they must include a sign informing the public that the
display is sponsored by private citizens and the government is not
endorsing its message or the religious display must be accompanied
by a variety of secular holiday symbols such that the overall
message of the display is not exclusively or primarily religious.
Of course if you see a controversy brewing over public holiday
displays in your town, contact your town attorney for advice
specific to your situation! And, happy holidays!
Tip of the
This month's tip comes from VMCTA President, Clyde Jenne, who
picked it up at a MOMS conference this fall:
"Cross train your office staff so citizens don’t have to be told
to 'Come back when the Clerk is here.' You can have more than one
assistant so someone is always available to sell dog, marriage
licenses, give out dump coupons, receive tax payments, etc. Makes
for happy people."
To submit a tip, please email Clyde Jenne (VMCTA President) at
firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to: Clyde Jenne,Town of
Hartland, P.O. Box 349, Hartland, VT 05048