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Selectboard Special Meeting 11.02.2022

GUILFORD SELECTBOARD – SPECIAL MEETING
Wednesday, November 2, 2022, 6:30 pm, 236 School Road, Guilford, VT

Minutes

SELECTBOARD MEMBERS PRESENT: Zon Eastes, Chair; Richard Wizansky, Rusty Marine, Michael Becker, Verandah Porche via Zoom

OFFICIALS/ STAFF PRESENT: Sheila Morse (Asst. Town Administrator)

PRESENT in person: Richard and Patricia Bullock

PRESENT via Zoom: Jaime Durham, Nancy Detra, Victoria Hone, Tammy Sargent, Steve Lembke, Elliot Mitchell, Anna Klein, Jeannette Tokarz, Jason Herron, Rick Zamore, Sheila Adams, Anne Rider, Virginia F, Don McLean, Patrice Pennington,

  1. Call to Order   at 6:30
  1. Rules of Procedure  and community engagement 
  1. New Business

Open Meeting Law Violation Allegation #6:  On October 25, 2022, Jason Herron alleged that Town Administrator Peder Rude and former Selectboard Chair Richard Wizansky violated the Open Meeting Law by seeking advice from the Town Attorney outside of a duly warned meeting.  Although Mr. Herron previously alleged the same violation, and the Selectboard denied his allegation, he now additionally claims Mr. Rude and Mr. Wizansky violated 1 V.S.A. § 312(g) by seeking advice from the Town Attorney outside a duly warned meeting and has requested that the Selectboard reconsider his allegations.  In particular, he claims Mr. Rude and Mr. Wizansky violated the portion of 1 V.S.A. § 312(g) which states, “[r]outine, day-to-day administrative matters that do not require action by the public body may be conducted outside a duly warned meeting, provided that no money is appropriated, expended, or encumbered.”  

Mr. Herron’s specific violation claims are the following:

  1. “Rude spent $192.50 in taxpayer funds seeking advice from the Town’s attorney outside of a Duly Warned Meeting.  That Violates 1 VSA 312(g).”
  1.  “Chairman Wizansky improperly utilized the Town Administrator (A town Resource) to act on behalf of the library, he was a Trustee and The Treasurer of.  This was a discussion with the bond bank about the feasibility of using recently discovered funds for the library addition.  This was all done without the Selectboards Joint Authority which violates both 1 VSA 172 and 1 VSA 312(g).”
  1. “Wizansky and Rude allocated taxpayer funds for the Town’s Law Firm to draft the revised bond language before the funds were disclosed to the public which violates both 1 VSa 312(g) and 1 VSA 172.”

Response:  Pursuant to 1 V.S.A. § 314(b)(2), the Selectboard is required to respond publicly within ten calendar days to a written notice of an alleged Open Meeting Law violation.Selectboard is required to respond publicly within 10 calendar days 

ACTION: Zon moved and Richard that the Selectboard determine that no violation of the Open Meeting Law has occurred and that no cure is necessary.  Further, if Mr. Rude and Mr. Wizansky had violated the Open Meeting Law by seeking advice from the Town Attorney outside of a duly warned meeting, which they have not, the Selectboard later ratified their decisions by approving the finance expense warrants that included the legal fees.  All were in favor. None were opposed. No one abstained. Motion carried.

Discussion: There was a disagreement between Jason Herron and others about whether or not town business can be conducted and expenses incurred absent a duly-warned public meeting.

Open Meeting Law Violation Allegation #7:  On October 26, 2022, Jason Herron alleged that Selectboard Chair Zon Eastes violated the Open Meeting Law by seeking advice from the Town Attorney outside of a duly warned meeting.  Although Mr. Herron previously alleged the same violation, and the Selectboard denied his allegation, he now additionally claims Mr. Eastes violated 1 V.S.A. § 312(g) by seeking advice from the Town Attorney outside of a duly warned meeting and has requested that the Selectboard reconsider his allegations.  In particular, he claims Mr. Eastes violated the portion of 1 V.S.A. § 312(g) which states, “[r]outine, day-to-day administrative matters that do not require action by the public body may be conducted outside a duly warned meeting, provided that no money is appropriated, expended, or encumbered.”  

Mr. Herron’s specific violation claims are the following:

  1. “The receipt below (see attached full allegation)is evidence that Chairman Eastes spent $35.00 in taxpayer funds, seeking advice from Guilford’s Town attorney.  Those funds were allocated to the law firm by Eastes outside of a Duly Warned Meeting, which is a violation of 1 VSA 312(g).”
  1.  “Chairman Eastes violated 1 VSA 172 when, acting on behalf of the Selectboard, he contacted the Town’s law firm without their Joint Authority.” 

Response:  Pursuant to 1 V.S.A. § 314(b)(2), the Selectboard is required to respond publicly within ten calendar days to a written notice of an alleged Open Meeting Law violation.

ACTION: Zon moved and Richard seconded that Selectboard Chair Zon Eastes did not violate the Open Meeting Law in contacting the Town Attorney for advice.   He is authorized as a Selectboard member to seek advice from the Town Attorney without approval of the full board, and this has no implication on the Open Meeting Law.  All were in favor. None were opposed. No one abstained. Motion carried.

Discussion: several major concerns were expressed by Jason and a number of residents, including: the Selectboard is being hampered in its responsibilities to conduct town business; the huge time and expense burden of handling these allegations; the charge that expenses cannot be incurred without a duly-warned public meeting; and a call to move on from making repeated allegations and charges and go to court for resolution; and a call to civility.

Resubmittal of Open Meeting Law Violation Allegation #3:   In Mr. Herron’s October 26, 2022 email regarding allegation #7, he goes on to seemingly request that the Selectboard reconsider his previous allegation #3 in which he claimed that he was refused a reasonable opportunity to speak at a May 9, 2022 public meeting.  

Response: Pursuant to 1 V.S.A. § 314(c), following a denial of a violation, a person aggrieved by a violation may bring an action in the Civil Division of the Superior Court.  

ACTION:Zon moved and Richard seconded that the  Selectboard not reconsider this exact same allegation for a second time, as the Selectboard has already carefully considered this allegation and made a decision on October 10, 2022 denying the allegation pursuant to 1 V.S.A. § 314(b)(2). All were in favor. None were opposed. No one abstained. Motion carried

  1. Adjournment : Michael moved and Rusty seconded that the meeting be adjourned.  All were in favor. None were opposed. No one abstained. Motion carried. The meeting adjourned at 7:10 p.m.

Link to meeting video: see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60sQbgaQngc

Attachments:
Allegations and Response

Next Selectboard Meeting: Monday, 11/14/22 at 6:30 pm  

Zon Eastes, Chair     _____________________________________

Michael Becker    _____________________________________

Rusty Marine        _____________________________________

Verandah Porche    _____________________________________

Richard Wizansky     ____________________________________

Open meeting Violation number 6


Jason Herron
Tue, Oct 25, 8:39 AM (9 days ago)

to Zon, me

To the Chairman of the Guilford Selectboard Zon Eastes,

Pursuant to 1 V.S.A. § 314(b)(1) and as a Resident of Guilford I, Jason Herron, am submitting to the public body this written notice that alleges a specific violation of this subchapter and requests a specific cure of such violation.

Regarding the Selectboards Denial of Open Meeting Violation #1

The Guilford Selectboard’s Sole Reason for why they claim 1 VSA 172 (Joint Authority) was not violated was based on this one statement. “The Town Administrator has the authority under his contract to work on behalf of the Selectboard.  This includes contacting the Town Attorney for advice and to draft bond language for the Selectboard’s consideration. Mr. Rude’s contact with the Town Attorney in no way violates the Open Meeting Law.

The Selectboard’s reasoning for this denial REQUIRES that I now invoke 1 VSA 312(g) as additional evidence to the original allegation.

1 VSA 312(g) states that “routine, day to day administrative matters may be conducted outside a duly warned meeting, provided that no money is appropriated, expended or encumbered.”

In this instance, Guilford’s Town Administrator, Peder Rude, spent $192.50 in taxpayer funds, seeking advice from the Town’s attorney. This was done Outside of a Duly Warned Meeting. That is a clear violation of 1 VSA 312(g).

1 VSA 312(g) explains why the Selectboard was wrong in their original denial and should therefore reconsider their original determination. The Town Administrator has no authority to spend taxpayer funds on behalf of the selectboard. No individual Selectboard member, including the Chairperson, has the authority to spend tax dollars outside of a duly warned meeting. If taxpayer funds are to be spent, it needs to be authorized in a meeting and done with the Selectboards Joint Authority.

The Town Administrator, or any individual Selectboard member, can hire their own attorney to research statutes. Or they can utilize the free legal services offered to them by the VLCT. Or they can research the Statutes themselves utilizing their free Selectboard Handbook or any number of free online resources. Or they can make a motion, in an Open Meeting, and vote to authorize the spending of tax dollars for legal advice. However, no one is authorized to remove tax dollars from the public’s pocket without their consent. 

The following paragraph is a transcribed quote from Guilford’s Town Administrator, Peder Rude, during Guilford’s Selectboard meeting on December 27, 2021. The town of Guilford had recently discovered some unused funds and Rude was explaining the events that transpired immediately following that discovery. Here is the meeting for reference. The entirety of this particular statement starts at the 6:10 mark.

“There was one final payment to pay off that bond. Through the discussion with the representative at the bond bank and noting that there are no more expenses outstanding for that portion of the project, what can the town do with those funds? Which led to the topic of the project at the library. We had a few questions, so we set up a follow-up meeting with the bond bank with Richard and Isaac Wagner and discussed with them about the feasibility of using those funds for the library project.”

The Guilford Selectboard Chairman at the time was Richard Wizansky. Wizansky was also the Treasurer and a Trustee of the Guilford Free Library. According to Rude’s statement, Wizanksy used town assets, to meet and discuss reallocating $195,000 in recently discovered public funds to the library addition. These funds were earmarked to the library addition before they were disclosed to the public. This was done without the concurrence of a majority of the selectboard body violating Vermont State Statute 1 V.S.A § 172. Joint authority

When joint authority is given to three or more, the concurrence of a majority of such number shall be sufficient and shall be required in its exercise.

The Selectboard responded to these allegations by stating that:  “The Town Administrator has the authority under his contract to work on behalf of the Selectboard.  This includes contacting the Town Attorney for advice and to draft bond language for the Selectboard’s consideration. Mr. Rude’s contact with the Town Attorney in no way violates the Open Meeting Law.”

The receipt below is evidence that Guilford’s Town Administrator, Peder Rude, spent taxpayer funds when he contacted the town lawyer. This was done without the Selectboard’s authorization. The Receipt also shows that the lawyer was instructed to add language to the Library Ballot before the funds were revealed to the public in an open meeting. Both instances required allocating taxpayer funds outside of a duly warned meeting and are thus violations of 1 V.S.A. §312(g)

1 V.S.A. §312(g) reads in its entirety as follows:

The provisions of this subchapter shall not apply to site inspections for the purpose of assessing damage or making tax assessments or abatements, clerical work, or work assignments of staff or other personnel. Routine, day-to-day administrative matters that do not require action by the public body may be conducted outside a duly warned meeting, provided that no money is appropriated, expended, or encumbered.

There are more than a dozen instances where the Town Administrator, Peder Rude, and the Selectboard Chairman, Richard Wizasky have spent taxpayer funds seeking legal advice outside of a duly warned meeting.

These instances have all been brought to the attention of the Guilford Selectboard as open meeting violations per 1 VSA 172 Joint Authority. My contention is that no individual Selectboard member may act on behalf of the Selectboard without having the Selectboards Joint approval, which can only be obtained by a vote in an open meeting.

In denial of that contested violation, the Selectboard claims the Town Administrator has the authority in his contract to work on behalf of the Selectboard.

1 VSA 312(g) clearly states that “routine, day to day administrative matters may be conducted outside a duly warned meeting, provided that no money is appropriated, expended or encumbered.”

  • Rude spent $192.50 in taxpayer funds seeking advice from the Town’s attorney outside of a Duly Warned Meeting. That Violates 1 VSA 312(g)
  • Chairman Wizansky improperly utilized the Town Administrator (A town Resource) to act on behalf of the library, he was a Trustee and The Treasurer of. This was a discussion with the bond bank about the feasibility of using recently discovered funds for the library addition. This was all done without the Selectboards Joint Authority which violates both 1 VSA 172 and 1 VSA 312(g).
  • Wizansky and Rude allocated taxpayer funds for the Town’s Law Firm to draft the revised bond language before the funds were disclosed to the public which violates both 1 VSA 312(g) and 1 VSA 172.

The specific cure.

It is requested that the Selectboard publicly acknowledge this scenario and explain why the actions taken were unlawful. This will help restore public trust while clarifying the mistake, so it doesn’t happen again.

It is also suggested that the Selectboard study the VLCT handbook and attend training, so they understand the Laws they are to work under.

From: Jason Herron <jbh512@msn.com>

Date: Wed, Oct 26, 2022 at 8:50 AM

Subject: Open Meeting Violation #7

To: Zon Eastes <zoneastes@guilfordvt.gov>

CC: Sheila Morse <help@guilfordvt.gov>

To the Chairman of Guilford’s Selectboard Zon Eastes,

Pursuant to 1 V.S.A. § 314(b)(1) and as a Resident of Guilford I, Jason Herron, am providing the public body this written notice that alleges a specific violation of this subchapter and requests a specific cure of such violation.

Regarding the Selectboards Denial of Open Meeting Violation #3

The Guilford Selectboard claimed that Vermont Statute 1 VSA 172 (Joint Authority) was not violated because “Mr. Eastes is authorized as a Selectboard member to seek advice from the Town Attorney without approval of the full board, and this has no implication on the Open Meeting Law.

The Selectboard’s reasoning for that denial REQUIRES that I now invoke 1 VSA 312(g) as additional evidence to the original allegations.

1 VSA 312(g) states that “routine, day to day administrative matters may be conducted outside a duly warned meeting, provided that no money is appropriated, expended or encumbered.”

Specific Violation – The receipt below is evidence that Chairman Eastes spent $35.00 in taxpayer funds, seeking advice from Guilford’s Town attorney. Those funds were allocated to the law firm by Eastes Outside of a Duly Warned Meeting, which is a violation of 1 VSA 312(g).

Specific Violation – Chairman Eastes violated 1 VSA 172 when, acting on behalf of the Selectboard, he contacted the Town’s law firm without their Joint Authority.

1 VSA 312(g) explains why the basis for the Selectboard’s original denial is erroneous and must be reconsidered.

The Selectboard has also failed to address several other allegations in their original decision. Since the Selectboard is the Head of Agency in this matter, if the Selectboard’s determination is appealed, the Court will want a clear understanding of how the Selectboard is interpreting these accusations.

The questions below, that are written in bold, all require a response from the Selectboard. This is to ensure the Court has a clear understanding of the events that transpired if an appeal becomes necessary.

On May 9th, 2022, Jason Herron was on a regular selectboard meeting agenda to discuss Guilford’s Conflict of Interest policy. During that meeting, he was refused an opportunity to participate in two agenda items concerning Public Document Requests. Herron was also silenced using a premeditated scheme by Selectboard Chairman Zon Eastes during Herron’s allotted agenda time. Here is the link to that meeting. An account of what transpired is outlined below and began at the 50:00-minute mark.

The Selectboard granted themselves 5 minutes to discuss recent Public Document Requests. At the end of those five minutes, the public was allowed to speak and the selectboard responded to their questions and comments. However, when Herron tried asking about a Document Request, without hearing any questions, the Selectboard said they planned to address his questions during the next agenda item. That statement inferred to the public that the next agenda item was about a specific Document request that was made by Herron. The Selectboard then refused to hear questions from Herron during this period of public discussion. Does the selectboard deny they refused to hear questions from Jason Herron during the public discussion period of the agenda item just mentioned?

The Selectboard then allotted themselves 8 minutes to address a specific document request Herron had made. They started off that 8-minute presentation by stating there would be no public discussion following it. During that statement, Eastes even invoked Herron’s name, but still would not let him respond. Does the Selectboard deny that Eastes invoked Jason Herron’s name? Does the Selectboard deny that they would not allow public discussion after their statement?

Herron was also the only one who was timed during the entire meeting. He was given a predetermined 5 minutes to address his agenda item. Since he was not allowed to participate in the two previous discussions about Document Requests, he put his agenda item (Conflict-of-Interest) aside. He was forced to clarify all the accusatory misstatements the selectboard had just made about his and other Document Requests during their combined 13-minute presentations. Was Herron the only one who was alerted, by an alarm, that their allotted time had expired during the meeting in Question?

When five minutes were up, an alarm sounded, and Herron was cut off in mid-sentence. Herron was not given a reasonable opportunity to discuss his agenda item because he was forced to Defend himself from the Selectboard’s accusations. When several members of the community offered to donate their time, so Herron could finish his presentation, the selectboard refused and took a 10-minute recess. Does the selectboard deny they took a recess immediately after several residents offered to donate their time for Herron to continue his presentation?

Earlier that same day, on May 9th, Eastes used taxpayer funds to seek advice from the Town’s lawyer without first discussing that decision in an open meeting. That action is a violation of 1 VSA 312(g) and 1 VSA 172 Joint Authority. The conversation Eastes had with the Town’s law firm, was regarding a “potential for altercation at SB meeting and ability to call for recess without a vote.” Does the Selectboard deny Eastes asked the Town’s law firm if he had the ability to call for a recess without a vote?

Herron also asked the selectboard several direct questions, but they refused to respond. Prior to the meeting, Eastes had sent an email to Herron stating that he should expect “friendly ears, but sure silence from us.” Does the Selectboard deny this email was written?

Specific Violation – Members of the public have the right to participate in public meetings. Specifically, public bodies must give members of the public a reasonable opportunity to express their opinions on matters being considered by the body at an open meeting. 1 V.S.A. § 312(h).

Herron was omitted from participation in the public discussion of two separate agenda items. He was also not given a reasonable opportunity to express his opinions on matters being considered by the Selectboard during that same meeting. The Selectboard also refused Herron’s right to participate by refusing to answer any of his questions.

Specific Violation – The following persons can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $500:

• A person who knowingly and intentionally participates in the wrongful exclusion of any person or persons from any meeting. 1 V.S.A. § 314(a).

On May 9th, Chairman Eastes contacted Guilford’s Town lawyer asking if it was legal to call for a recess without a vote. Later that very evening, immediately after several residents of Guilford offered to donate their time for Herron to finish his presentation, Eastes called for that recess without a vote. 

The specific cure:

It is requested that the Selectboard publicly acknowledge this scenario and explain why the actions taken by the elected officials involved were unlawful. This will help restore public trust while clarifying the mistake, so it doesn’t happen again.

It is also suggested that the Selectboard be required to read the VLCT Selectboard Handbook and attend training, so they understand the Laws they are to work under.

182000-00001 – General Matters

Town of Guilford – General Matters

DateAttorneyDescriptionQuantityRateTotal
05/03/2022KESPhone call from Zon Eastes re: attorney/client privilege; email Zon Eastes re: same.0.20$175.00$35.00
05/09/2022KESPhone call from Zon Eastes re: potential for altercation at SB meeting and ability to call for recess without vote.0.20$175.00$35.00
05/31/2022BPMReview “PRR Summary” document, legal research re: public records act issues, draft notes to file.3.10$200.00$620.00