In response to COVID-19 health concerns posed by person-to-person contact, the Legislature passed Act 78 (the Act) earlier this year which temporarily changed Vermont’s Open Meeting Law. The Act allows municipal public bodies to hold completely remote meetings through electronic participation only. This is a unique, temporary situation, as the Open Meeting Law typically requires that public bodies designate and staff a physical location where the public may attend. For more information, please see our Remote Only Public Meetings 2022 Toolkit.
Though Act 78 temporarily permits remote-only meetings, the Open Meeting Law’s permanent provisions also permit public bodies to conduct “hybrid” meetings (meetings with a physical location that may be accessed by electronic or other means). Public bodies therefore have the option of meeting in-person, remotely, or a combination of the two (“hybrid”) for the duration of calendar year 2022. Note that the Open Meeting Law’s permanent provisions does not give the public the right to require remote access; instead, this is an additional option the public body can choose to provide. In other words, attendance and participation in a hybrid meeting via remote access can be offered by the public body as a supplemental method of attending meetings.
This toolkit provides guidance to public bodies to hold optional in-person and remote meetings – i.e. “hybrid” meetings – while adhering to the Open Meeting Law. Two common questions include:
- Do we have to hold hybrid meetings?
No, each public body may decide whether to hold in-person only or hybrid meetings (unless the legislative body directs public bodies that it has authority over otherwise). Whether—and to what extent— a public body holds hybrid meetings should be based on your public’s needs and your town’s technical capabilities. At minimum, public bodies must adhere to the Open Meeting Law’s basic meeting requirements. To learn more about these requirements, please see our Open Meeting Law FAQs and Quick Guide on our Open Meeting Law home page.
- What happens if the public attending a hybrid meeting remotely is disconnected or unable to participate due to some technical or other issue?
Public bodies holding a hybrid meeting should plan and strive to allow any member of the public attending remotely to have full accessibility to its meeting. This includes having a member of the public body or staff person designated to troubleshoot any technical issues. It could also mean, if the public body so decides, that it continues its meeting to a later date and time certain until any disconnected remote public participants are able to reconnect, though this is technically not required. Note, however, that even though the Open Meeting Law doesn’t require that the public be guaranteed a method to remotely connect and participate in its meetings, the public will expect to have full access via remote means if a hybrid meeting is noticed. Therefore, if remote public access is provided, public bodies should attempt to provide remote attendees with the same type of access to their meetings that all in-person attendees are entitled to under the law.
If you have additional questions about Vermont's Open Meeting Law requirements, please view our Open Meeting Law resources or contact the VLCT member Municipal Inquiry Service at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-649-7915 for assistance.