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Kevin Dorn, City Manager Jim Barlow, Legal Counsel February 19, 2014 Alleged Open Meeting Law Violation

This is in response to your request for my opinion as to what factors would have needed to be in place for a violation of the Open Meeting Law. You explained that a resident alleged that three members of the Council had violated Vermont’s Open Meeting Law. The alleged violation occurred when these Council members attended a “launch party” hosted by the Energy Committee to publicize the City’s participation in a national energy competition sponsored by Georgetown University. The resident asserted that since three Council members were in the same room at a meeting and that meeting had not been warned as a meeting of the Council, then these members had, in her opinion, violated the Open Meeting Law. The Open Meeting Law applies to the meetings of a public body. The City Council is a public body subject to the Open Meeting Law. 1 V.S.A. §310(3). A “meeting” is defined under the Open Meeting Law as “a gathering of a quorum of the members of a public body for the purpose of discussing the business of the public body or for the purpose of taking action.” 1 V.S.A. §310(2). With a few limited exceptions, all meetings of a public body must be warned in accordance with 1 V.S.A. §312(c)(1)-(3). In my opinion, for a violation of the Open Meeting Law to have occurred there must have been: (1) a quorum of City Council members gathered at the launch party, and (2) discussion of Council business by the Council members who were present. If both these thresholds were met, and if this gathering was not warned as a special or emergency meeting of the Council, then an Open Meeting Law violation may have occurred. However, the mere presence of three members of the City Council at the launch party would not have been an Open Meeting Law violation. The key element is whether the members were gathered “for the purpose of discussing the business of the *City Council+.” If there was no discussion of City Council business by the Council members at the launch party, then no Open Meeting Law violation could have occurred. Additionally, there is an exception in the Open Meeting Law for “*r+outine day-to-day administrative matters that do not require action by the public body.” 1 V.S.A. §312(g). Such matters “may be conducted outside a duly warned meeting, provided that no money is appropriated, expended, or encumbered.” Id. On November 18, 2013 the Council voted unanimously to approve the City’s participation in the Georgetown University energy competition. No further action by the Council was

necessary or required for the City’s participation in this event. In this light, it is my opinion that any incidental discussion by the Council members regarding the competition or any statements of support for the Energy Committee’s efforts at the launch party would likely be considered by a court to be the type of “routine day-to-day administrative matters” that fall outside the Open Meeting Law’s warning requirements.

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