Attorney General’s Office Responds City Clerk’s Letter, Declines Investigation

MONTPELIER — Montpelier City Clerk John Odum announced today that his office had received a response to his letter asking that the Attorney General’s office investigate whether a violation of the Vermont open meeting law had occurred in relation to the matter of the informal decision by the city council to terminate the employment of City Manager Bill Fraser. The letter was sent in response to the concerns expressed by dozens of citizens, both in public meetings and privately to the clerk, as well as the public comments of City Councilor Dona Bate at the November 9 City Council meeting.

In the letter, Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Duane indicated that the Attorney General’s office has declined to open an investigation, based on his review of the November 9 Council meeting, an electronic communication with the Board of the Council President Anne Watson, and a telephone conversation with Mayor John Hollar. Regarding whether an overt violation had occurred, Duane noted that the mayor had indicated that a conference call in question had been held between himself and only two councilors, which did not constitute a quorum and therefore did not rise to the level of a violation. Short of an explicit charge that the conference call in question in fact had a quorum in participation, Duane indicated that an investigation would not be forthcoming on that basis.

On the second, and more publicly cited, concern noted in the clerk’s letter; that of whether “serialized” decision making constituted an open meeting law violation, Duane declined to open an investigation on that basis, while noting the ambiguity in the law and supporting the secretary of state’s caution that public bodies be “mindful of the public’s right-to-know.”

In response to the letter from the Attorney General’s office, Odum made the following statement:

“I’d like to express my thanks to the Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Duane for addressing this matter and taking it seriously. In regards to the clerk’s office’s due diligence, I am satisfied that the question has been appropriately asked and answered under the circumstances. Should those circumstances change, Mr. Duane has indicated that the question could be raised again, but I trust it won’t come to that. What this means, I hope, for the citizens of Montpelier is that the public discussion going forward can fully focus on the underlying issue; that of the status of the City Manager’s continued employment with the City. Although I have not weighed in publicly on that issue, I expect to at a future time.”

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