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Transparency is an essential element of open and democratic government. In Vermont, the primary means of providing transparency are the State’s open meeting law, 1 V.S.A. §§ 310-314, and the public records law, 1 V.S.A. §§ 315-320. These laws implement the command of Chapter I, Article 6 of the Vermont Constitution that officers of government are “trustees and servants” of the people and are “at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.”

The Open Meeting Law clearly emphasizes the openness of and accessibility to government. It declares that “All meetings of a public body are declared to be open to the public at all times, except as provided in section 313 of this title [on executive sessions].” 1 V.S.A. § 312(a). The Open Meeting Law and its requirements are meant to empower the public to play an effective role as not only an active participant in government but also a check on it as well.

Every municipal board, council, commission and committees (legally defined as “public bodies”) of a municipality is required to comply with the Open Meeting Law. The Law applies when there is (1) a quorum of a public body; (2) involved in a discussion or taking action; and (3) the subject matter of the discussion is one over which the body has authority or responsibility.

Hybrid Meetings: In-Person and Remote Attendance

The Open Meeting Law does not permit remote-only meetings (as there must be a physical location, hence the term “hybrid” meetings), but it does authorize municipal bodies to meet by electronic or other means so long as certain conditions are met. When Vermont’s declared State of Emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was lifted in June 2021, temporary law Act 92 which allowed public bodies to meeting without a physical location, expired. MAC’s Open Meeting Law Hybrid Public Meetings Toolkit includes guidance and best practice templates to help public bodies comply the law and provide additional remote attendance options.

Remote-Only Public Meetings:

On January 18, 2022, Governor Scott signed Act 78 into law. The purpose of the Act is to allow public bodies to “organize and hold open meetings in a manner that will protect the health and welfare of the public while providing access to the operations of government.” The Act does this by allowing temporary Open Meeting Law procedures that will remain in effect until January 15, 2023. Among the temporary allowances is that municipal public bodies can hold completely remote meetings through electronic participation only, without designating a physical meeting location, and electronic posting for agendas and special meeting notices.

This toolkit provides guidance to public bodies that wish to hold remote-only public meetings while the Act is in effect. [If you are looking for information on hosting remote-only informational hearings for Australian Ballot Voting, please refer to our Town Meeting resource Remote Informational Hearings COVID-19 Toolkit.]