In South Burlington, there continues to be disagreement about what does and does not constitute a public meeting.
City councilor Tom Chittenden, at a Nov. 2 meeting, spoke during “other business,” he said to get into the public record a conversation about South Burlington resident Mike Donoghue’s allegations that the city violated open meetings law.
During an Oct. 19 meeting, Donoghue, who is also a longtime reporter and part-time executive director of the Vermont Press Association, said the council violated Vermont open meetings law in September when city manager Kevin Dorn initiated the online city publication, The South Burlington Times — Now known as South Burlington City News.
Donoghue is a correspondent for the Vermont Community Newspaper Group, including The Other Paper.
In September, Dorn sent an email to all of the city councilors saying he was going to start an online city newspaper, to which at least one of the councilors responded by hitting “reply all,” Donoghue said, having obtained the correspondence through a public records request.
Donoghue said that once a councilor pressed “reply all” the email chain became a public meeting, with councilors discussing city business that the public should have access to.
Dorn was not at this week’s city council meeting, he is on vacation according to assistant city manager Tom Hubbard, but Dorn maintains open meeting law was not violated because “there is an exemption in the law for administrative actions,” Chittenden relayed.
“I was surprised to hear that city manager Dorn opted to apparently send another group email telling the council that it was his interpretation that the council did not violate the open meeting law,” Donoghue said in a phone call Tuesday.
Donoghue said he was further surprised that no one from the city council had gotten in touch with him to talk about his allegations that the open meeting law had been violated.
He said it is true that the law does allow for some communications between city councilors — for things like scheduling a meeting or to develop an agenda.
“For him to claim that his email and the reply all emails are covered under an administrative exemption is an incorrect interpretation of the law,” Donoghue said. “There is no reference to an exemption in the law for ‘administrative actions.’”
Other, other business
Also in the other business portion of the meeting, councilor Tim Barritt suggested having a future discussion about whether the city should continue to fund school resource officers for the South Burlington schools, an ongoing discussion in the city.
“I think it’s a discussion worth having especially from the city’s side,” Barritt said.
Chair Helen Riehle said she thought the school resource officers were paid out of the school’s budget, but Hubbard confirmed they are paid from the city budget.
When Barritt asked if his peers thought this was an issue they should consider, councilor Meaghan Emery said she thought they should.
“Everything is on the table when we’re talking about deficits coming ahead,” Emery said. “We have to prioritize.”