Open Meetings complaint moves to Rutland Superior Court


BRANDON — Two Brandon residents who filed a complaint against the Brandon selectboard regarding an alleged Open Meetings violation, which the selectboard dismissed in a meeting last week, asked a Rutland Superior Court judge last Thursday to take up the case. The request to the Rutland Superior Court Civil Division was made by Margaret Kahrs, a former Animal Control Officer for Brandon, and Lee Kahrs, formerly the editor of The Reporter.

The complaint stems from an alleged violation sometime since a selectboard meeting on July 27, 2020. At that meeting, a motion was passed that the couple allege adopted eight recommendations of what the ACO job should entail into the town’s Animal Control ordinance. Those eight points describe the ACO’s training and equipment needs and how the position would interact with other town officers.

In the complaint, they cited minutes from the July 27, 2020 meeting that recorded the following: “Motion by Seth Hopkins/Tracy Wyman to approve the Animal Control Ordinace that was vetted by the Town’s Attorney and to include the 8 recommendations Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Guiles included on the cover memo of the Animal Control ordinance. The motion passed unanimously.”

The couple allegations demonstrate the eight points were part of the official town ordinance.

In a special meeting held by the Brandon selectboard on July 21, the selectboard denied that it ever intended for the 8 points to be part of the town ordinance, but rather it was a policy document meant to guide the town manager’s oversight of the ACO.

The selectboard’s statement refuting the initial complaint said: “The Vermont League of Cities and Towns provides in its Select Board Handbook the following definition of an ordinance from a Vermont court case which has stood as precedent for more than one hundred years: an ordinance is “an expression of the municipal will, affecting the conduct of the inhabitants generally, or a number of them under some general designation. Ordinances, in other words, are outward-facing (public-oriented) and apply to the general population of the Town. Policies, on the other hand, are inward-facing (internally-oriented) and apply to not the public but to a limited class, such as, in the case you raise in your letter, a single appointee of the board.”

When contacted this Tuesday about the complaint moving to the Rutland Superior Court, Selectboard Chairman Seth Hopkins noted that the town has not yet been served with a formal complaint or summons from the court and until that time he couldn’t comment on the matter extensively.

He did say, however, that his initial take on the matter remained the same: that the board’s intent was not to have it be part of the ordinance, but as an accompanying “management” document to guide internal affairs. He said that if the board talked about the eight points as if they were part of the ordinance during a meeting, they did so mistakenly.

“Clearly it is not our intent to not be transparent on this issue,” Hopkins said in a Tuesday interview, adding that he also didn’t “see the connection” between the eight points not being a part of the ordinance and the alleged open meeting violation.

In previous statements, the Kahrs alleged the town’s animal control ordinance “had been amended without public knowledge, comment or approval, thus violating the Open Meeting Law.” In what is a circular argument, they make that allegation based on the fact that the eight points are not part of the ordinance today, and therefore must have been removed without public knowledge.

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