Montpelier City Council denies Open Meeting Law violation

Published: Jun. 25, 2022 at 12:09 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Do municipal bodies have the ability to limit public comment time?? According to Vermont’s Open Meeting Law, they can.

Montpelier City Council recently came under fire after an unruly resident accused them of breaking the rules.

Montpelier Police removed resident Steve Whitaker from a  city council meeting earlier this month. He was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and violations of conditions of release.

“Mr. Whitaker had become argumentative and caused a disturbance, which kept City Council from moving forward with their business,” Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete told Channel 3 shortly after the incident occured.

At that point he was well over the two-minute speaking limit set forth by council. Prior to being removed Mayor Anne Watson had asked him to sit down or leave.

“My job as mayor is really to enforce those rules and make sure we’re following them equitably,” she told WCAX in an interview. Shortly after, Whitaker filed a complaint accusing the council of violating two Open Meeting Laws.

The first accusation was in regard to the two minute time limit. We spoke to Secretary of State Jim Condos about Vermont’s Open Meeting Law at the beginning of June. He says time limits can be unfair, but not against any laws.

“The board has the right to set some reasonable limits. I don’t think two minutes is a reasonable amount to allow someone to speak, but you need to look at each situation,” Condos said.

The second accusation Whitaker made against the Montpelier City Council was meeting as a quorum out of the public eye.

Watson says the complaint references a portion of the meeting taking place after racially insensitive comments were made toward one of the councilors.

“We took a break in the business of the council at that point. A few of us went out there to meet with here and console her, so we were not taking up any city business.” Watson said.

Watson says they denied any wrong-doing at a special meeting held last week. If he wants, Whitaker can take the complaint to the Attorney General’s office, who can evaluate the situation.

Which towns have open meeting law violations and when is hard to track, as nothing requires them to keep a record. We reached out to 50 municipalities on June 10th and have followed up with several since then.

Of the thirteen responses, none keep a formal record of open meeting law violations. A handful say it’s because they’ve never had any, others just choose not to.

Related Stories:

How often is Vermont’s Open Meeting Law violated? Why we may never know

Man arrested for disrupting Montpelier City Council meeting

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