By Rosemarie White
I am following up on The Valley Reporter’s editorial and Adam Greshin’s proposed amendment to Vermont’s Open Meeting Law as written about in last week’s paper.
It was I who expressed frustration to Adam over the restrictions placed upon subcommittees (aka workgroups) of public bodies. I am on the Facilities Committee of the Harwood Unified Union School District Board with two other members, one of whom (Alycia Biondo) is a Warren resident like myself. The issue I raised pertained to our possibly violating the Open Meeting Law if Alycia and I happened to meet in Mehuron’s or if both of us happen to meet in Warren School at the same time and an HUUSD facilities issue came up.
Technically, the two of us make up a quorum and, therefore, cannot meet without properly warning the public of our meeting, posting an agenda, taking minutes, and posting the minutes for the public within five days. Neither Alycia nor I want to break the law; however, as you can imagine, living in a small community, she and I bumping into each other may occur on a regular basis. I have to think living in a small state, we are not the only citizens who have this issue.
Adam graciously said he would look into this as he agreed some clarification to the Open Meeting Law would be helpful. Now I find Adam being chastised for attempting to provide this clarification. That said, I respect The Valley Reporter editor Lisa Loomis’ point and admire her dedication to the importance of transparency. I agree with Lisa in that the public needs to know what their elected officials are doing. But, I also agree with Adam in that “There is a fine line between guaranteeing transparency and impeding the function of a (public) body.”
Adam also said abuse of the Open Meeting Law may occur, but he is “more apt to have faith in our public servants to obey the rules. If that faith disappears, elections are held every year.” In response, his attitude was considered “cavalier” and he was reminded that the terms of the members of the HUUSD Board were multiyear.
There has to be a happy medium. It is frustrating trying to perform the duties for which we are elected to and then have our hands tied because of a restrictive law, whose intent is well-meaning and important but nevertheless overreaching. There needs to be common sense applied when interpreting the intent of the law so our elected officials can effectively perform their duties without fear of breaking the law.
I am not saying we should not have transparency, but am saying we need to be realistic and not make the process so cumbersome that the job cannot get done. We have to take responsibility for knowing what is going on with our elected officials. If we are concerned about abuse and irresponsible decision making, then we need to reach out and express our concerns. If we don’t feel we are being heard, then we need to take action.
White lives in Warren.