Town Meeting 2019 is sooner than you think, but MAC is here to help now!
Town meeting 2019 will take place on Tuesday, March 5. To help you prepare for this important day in Vermont local government, the Municipal Assistance Center (MAC) maintains a Town Meeting Resources webpage that includes information and models for your town meeting warning and the various articles placed on the warning, information on voter-backed petitions, as well as a new “frequently asked questions” document on the annual auditors’ (town) report.
Town meeting warning. The town meeting warning and notice must be posted no more than 40 but no fewer than 30 days before town meeting. 17 V.S.A. § 2641(a). In 2019, the earliest day that these documents may be posted is Thursday, January 24; the last day to post them is Sunday, February 3.
According to 17 V.S.A. § 2641:
- The warning and notice must be posted in at least two public places in the town and in or near the town clerk’s office. If the town has more than one polling place and they are not in the same building, the warning and notice must be posted in at least two public places within each voting district.
- The warning and notice must be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the town at least five days before the town meeting, unless the warning is published in the town report that is distributed according to 24 V.S.A. § 1682.
- The warning must also be posted to the town’s website, if the town actively updates its website on a regular basis.
The warning and notice must include the date and time of the election, the location of the polling place(s), and the nature of the meeting. The warning must, by separate articles, specifically indicate the business to be transacted, including the offices and questions to be voted on. Note that the office of grand juror is no longer a required elected position to be voted on. A 2018 amendment to state statute gives the selectboard the discretionary authority to appoint a grand juror, thereby making the position optional. In addition, the posted notice that accompanies the warning must include information on voter registration, early or absentee voting, and other appropriate information. 17 V.S.A. § 2642.
Articles. Unless specifically articulated in statute, the wording of town meeting articles is indeterminate. For that reason, MAC has developed model town meeting articles for our members. Some articles require editing by either entering your own words or picking a phrase or number or monetary amount.
Voter-backed petitions. State statute requires that the town meeting warning must also contain any article requested by a voter-backed petition that meets the requirements of 17 V.S.A. § 2642(a)(3). However, selectboards are only obligated by law to warn a voter-backed petitioned article when it “sets forth a clear right which is within the province of the town meeting to grant or refuse through its vote.” Royalton Taxpayers’ Protective Ass’n. v. Wassmansdorf, 128 Vt. 153 (1960). Pending the Vermont Supreme Court’s decision in the Robert A. Skiff, Jr. et al v. South Burlington School District case, VLCT believes that legislative bodies have the authority and discretion to decide whether a non-statutory petition should be placed as an article on the town meeting warning. (MAC will inform members of any change to our analysis pending the above case.) If a petitioned article does not fall within the legal authority of the voters, it is for the selectboard to decide whether to include the article as an advisory, non-binding article.
Voter-backed petitions must be signed by at least five percent of the voters of the municipality and filed with the town clerk no fewer than 47 days before Town Meeting Day. 17 V.S.A. § 2642(a)(3). The last day for petitions to be submitted for town meeting 2019 is Thursday, January 17. Petitions must also:
- contain the petition language on each page on which signatures are collected; and
- include the printed name, signature, and street address of each voter who signed the petition.
Town clerks receiving petitions have a short timeframe in which to ascertain if they contain the required number of registered voters and conform to the requirements of 17 V.S.A. § 2642(a)(3)(A). Clerks must return a non-conforming petition within 24 hours to the petitioners, stating in writing the reasons it cannot be accepted. Petitioners may then file supplementary petitions no later than 48 hours after the petition is returned by the clerk or the filing deadline, whichever is later.
Start early. It is crucial to start early on drafting your town meeting warning and notice. We recommend consulting your town moderator, who may have advice about the wording or order of articles that will promote a smooth and manageable meeting. The selectboard should thoroughly review the town meeting warning and notice before they are finalized. Corrections are much easier to fix before town meeting than after.
See MAC Resources (below) for much more information on voter-backed petitions, model town meeting warnings, and town meeting resources generally.
As always, MAC is available to assist town officials with any town meeting-related questions. Email us at email@example.com or call 800-649-7915.
Susan Senning, Staff Attorney I
VLCT Municipal Assistance Center
Also visit these VLCT web resources related to Town Meeting Day:
- VLCT Town Meeting Webpage: https://www.vlct.org/municipal-assistance/municipal-topics/town-meeting
- Annual Town Report FAQs: https://www.vlct.org/resource/annual-town-report-faqs
- Model Town Meeting Articles: https://www.vlct.org/resource/model-town-meeting-articles
- Model Town Meeting Warnings: https://www.vlct.org/resource/model-town-meeting-warnings
- Voter-Baked Petitions FAQs: https://www.vlct.org/resource/voter-backed-petitions-faq
- Model Social Services Appropriations Policy and Guidance: https://www.vlct.org/resource/model-social-service-appropriation-policy
- Post Town Meeting Process Info Sheet: https://www.vlct.org/resource/post-town-meeting-process-info-sheet