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Minutes June 18, 2008

Minutes of Open Government Committee

Meeting of June 18, 2008

7:00 PM

Miller Information Commons Champlain College

Members Present: R. Haesler, M. Bozik, G. Crawford, D. Mindich, W. Sawyer, D. Lane,
J. Royer, S. Mcintyre, J. Shannon, T. Ashe.
Meeting called to order at 7:08 PM by Mayor Kiss
Mayor Kiss – reviewed the proposed organizational structure of the meetings. Each of
the City Councilors would chair a meeting and each of the staff would chair a meeting.
Mayor suggested the agenda to be Introductions; Review Minutes; Review Proposed
Agenda, Discussion.
Tim Ashe – agreed to chair the meeting
Richard Haesler – raised the question of whether staff from the same office should chair
the meeting while staff from their office is presenting.
Mayor Kiss – this will have to be figured out by the next meeting.
Tim Ashe – entertained a motion on how to include the public discussion in the meeting.
The item was labeled 1 A and was moved by Joan Shannon and seconded by ???, motion
to add to agenda approved unanimously.
Mayor Kiss – reviewed intent of presentations.
Tim Ashe – entertained a motion to amend agenda to include item 1 AA, Approval of
prior meeting minutes, to proceed item 1 A. Motion made by Joan Shannon seconded by
Margaret Bozik, approved unanimously.
Item 1 AA – Motion to approve minutes made by Geoff Crawford, seconded by Joan
Shannon, approved unanimously.
Item 1 A – Tim Ashe - How to we include the public in the discussion. There could be a
public forum item similar to Council Meeting, perhaps in beginning or at end. Alternate
option would be to allow discussion concurrently with presentations.
Joan Shannon – have opportunity for public discussion at the end of each presentation.
Margaret Bozik – if there discussion is not allowed concurrently that the public can
forward comments in writing.
Damon Lane – feels comments should be permitted concurrently.
David Mindich – seconded Damon Lane’s comments and thought it appropriate to allow
concurrent discussion if time allows.
Tim Ashe – reminded all of time allotment and agreed that we will proceed with
concurrent discussion, and
Geoff Crawford – Motioned to adopt concurrent discussion procedure, seconded by Joan
Shannon, motion approved unanimously.
Committee introduced themselves.

Item 2 Presentation by City Attorney Ken Schatz – process of appointments. The mayor
is the CEO of the City. City Council is primarily responsible for the operations of the
City. There are 14 City Councilors, 2 from each Ward. City Council meets twice per
month. Additionally, there can be Special Meetings. The Mayor proposes the budget
which is then approved by the City Council. The City Council also operates by
resolution which guides the inner workings of the City. The City Council also can enact
ordinances which effect the actions of others outside the city staff.
The City is guided by its Charter. The Charter lays out the authority of the City. The
City only has the authority granted to it by the State Legislature, general enabling
legislation and the Charter. Resolution by example; anyone or department pending more
than $100K needs approval of the City Council. Ordinance by example; the Minimum
Housing Code, which everyone must abide by.
Appointments – many departments have boards and commissions. In 2002 the
Legislature changed responsibility of these boards and commissions to advisory. The
boards and commissions retained certain authorities delegated to them by the City
Council are contained in the City Charter. By example; DPW regulates streets, the DPW
Commission as the authority to create rules, which become law, governing the streets.
Commission members are appointed by the City Council. Department Heads used to be
appointed by the Commission. This also changed in 2002, now Department Heads are
appointed by the Mayor, subject to the approval of the City Council. This created greater
authority centrally; away from the Commissions and to the Mayor and City Council.
Open Meeting Law – refer to documents handed out at May 29th meeting from the
Secretary of State’s office. The law is derived from the Vermont Constitution Article 6.
This is a basic vision enacted by statute. In summary – public must be given notice of
public meetings, must be able to attend, and minutes or records kept of the public
meeting, similar to the Freedom of Information Act. The law applies to all boards,
commissions, and committees of the ‘public bodies’. This does not apply to staff
The law applies when a quorum is meeting to have action. If a meeting is scheduled and
noticed and a quorum is not present, the meeting cannot occur. The members present
cannot have a discussion and no action can take place. This can be awkward for small
bodies whose members may come into contact with each other socially. In these cases
the members need to be careful about discussing business of the body while not actually
having a noticed and scheduled meeting.
Notice of Public Meetings – essentially there are three types of meetings. Certain bodies
have regular meetings times i.e., the same day of the week, month, etc. These can be
publicized in the annual report. Need to be clearly publicly announced they do not have
to continue to announce. City does more than the minimum, cannot do less than the
Open Meeting Law requires. The second type is referred to as a special meeting, was not
contemplated by the regular schedule. This type of meeting requires 24 hours notice to
body members, media, and must be posted in two additional places in addition to the
Clerk’s office.
The third meeting is an emergency meeting. There is a rigorous standard to be met for a
meeting to be in this category. Can have this meeting with as much notice as possible
and must truly be an emergency. City Attorney polices this.
Public’s right to be heard – The public has to be given some forum to be heard. The law
does not dictate how that occurs. It could include a public forum on the agenda. Chair
does have discretion to ensure the meeting is run orderly. The Chair may choose to
impose time limits for the public to speak.
Minutes – There needs to be minutes of public body meetings. Minutes should include
names of the public body members present, active participants, actions proposed and
results. Should indicate if a motion was made, what it was, who made it, and what was
the result. Most boards and commissions do more than the minimum. Constant source of
discussion how detailed the minutes should be. Minutes are to be available within 5 days
of the meeting. This is a very difficult standard to meet, if any detail is to be recorded.
When can a board meet in private? – 1. Talking about an entity acting as a quasi-judicial
fashion. It’s a body acting dealing with the right or interests of a person before them.
The Development Review Board can deliberate in private. The DRB does deliberate in
public yet does not allow public to comment. 2. Executive Sessions – the statute is clear.
There needs to be 2/3 majority vote, motion made containing the basic reason for going
into executive session. No motions can be made in executive session, must be made in
regular session. Miranda Card explains how to execute the appropriate motions. To be
forwarded to members. Approval for contracts must be in public session.
Agendas – agendas made available upon request. Efforts are being made to make
available as soon as possible and on line. City also provides notice to interested parties
when practical. Essentially, this is a mailing list. Good example is the ordinance
committee of the City Council.
Public Records Law – second part of openness. General principle documents produced
and received by the City need to be available for public inspection. The list of
exemptions is very long. Some broadly stated, some very narrow. Attorney client
documents are exempt, personnel records are exempt, executive session records are
City is responsible to respond to public records requests very quickly. The response must
be within two business days and can be one of three methods: 1. have the record/come in
and see or produce copies (for a fee). 2. Need additional time to produce the record, still
need to respond. 3. Information is not public – can appeal this to the head of the body
and ultimately to a court. These records requests are not free. The City of Burlington has
adopted the fee schedule approved by the Secretary of State’s Office. The fees need to be
based on actual costs. If the request requires more than one half hour of labor then labor
can be charged as well. Again, the fee is set by the Secretary of State’s office.
Tim Ashe – 10 minutes for questions to Ken Schatz
George Crawford – Anywhere the City falls short?
Ken Schatz – Some staff/City Officials may not know details of law. City Attorney’s
office strives to educate Dept. Heads about records law. City Attorney’s circulate memos
frequently asking for questions to be directed to them. Need to do an education session.
Perhaps circulate memos more frequently. When private individuals provide the City
information, is that information public. This is not clear, dealt with on a case by case
David Mindich – Looking through two measures, time of your tenure and other
municipalities has it gotten better or worse?
Ken Schatz – I am not the expert on other areas. I think we have gotten better about
disclosing information. Thinks the City of Burlington is on the upper end of this
measurement and willingness to disclose. We have more staff and easier to figure out
how to respond.
Geoff Crawford – How do we compare with the State?
Ken Schatz – State has many disputes. Many are with newspapers. We are pretty good.
They have run into problems with individuals, we have not had that problem. We do
have disputes, largely with the media.
Chip Sawyer – Ken mentioned earlier that some city practices go beyond the standards
set forth by law. To what extant is this occurring with codifying policies or resolutions.
Ken Schatz – Nothing codified to the best of his knowledge, mostly by practice.
Tim Ashe – Much of our policies copy State Statutes.
Steve McIntyre – With regards to boards and commissions, how much latitude are the
City Council and the Mayor given.
Ken Schatz – The City Council has broad authority and discretion to decide which
process to use. No guidance from the Charter. Some resolutions guide them.
Nonetheless a new council could change the resolutions.
Margaret Bozik – Codification versus practice. With regards to signing up for mailing
lists. How would they know that?
Ken Schatz – They would come to a meeting of a ‘public body’ and this service would be
made available to them. This is not general, at least not the current practice. The
individual would have to know that the ‘body’ is discussing the matter in the first place
and from that point on could be put on the mailing list for that ‘body’.
Barbara Beals – Perhaps this subject might merit more discussion. Not everyone has
agreed upon this at the State or City level. Agendas not available, I cannot read the
minutes of the meeting.
Ken Schatz – How quickly must we get minutes out? Law requires that draft minutes
available in 5 days. This may not be reasonable.
Barbara Beals – minutes should be available for inspection and not destroyed.
Bill Stuono – Minutes should have audio tape back up that can be used in a court of law
to verify written minutes. Have everything available in council packets on line, including
minutes, before the meeting. Minutes frequently adopted years late. The Planning
commission is approving minutes a year late. A year late is really unacceptable.
Barbara McGrew – is there a law that constitutes public announcement of a meeting?
What is the status of City Council Caucuses? What happens in the public meeting is
really a ratification of what happened on the floor.
Ken Schatz –Law require media to be notified, clerk’s office and two other locations.
The law does not refer to website. Interesting question, not sure if ever interpreted. If the
caucus generates a quorum of the public body then it requires notice. If 8 of the 14 CC
gather then that is a meeting requiring notice.
Wayne Senville – I hope this body puts its agendas and minutes on the website so we can
have for the meeting. Are serially email correspondence considered public meetings?
Ken Schatz – the more it looks like a meeting the more it is subject to public law.
Example if you have quorum in a chat room, then that is a public meeting.
Tim Ashe – thanks Ken. Richard Haesler can act as conduit to answer other legal
questions. Moving on to Tim Barden, City’s IT Director.
???? – What can be done to open up the appointment process for boards and
Ken Schatz – Change the City Charter – would describe how the Council would make
those specific appointments. Change can also be by petition. Also could be done by
advocacy generating a resolution.
Tim Barden – What part the city’s IT infrastructure may help the open government
Open government technology objective – provide citizens, elected officials, and city and
enterprise personnel with a technical infrastructure which enables timely, accurate
communication of questions, information and ideas in the most cost effective manner
Is this a reasonable goal? From IT perspective IT does not decide ‘what’ only the ‘how.
It is really only the caretaker.
Currently, we have separately managed websites with a collection of different content
management systems. The City website is managed by a few people. No one full time.
The other large dept websites are managed by individuals within the departments with
separate servers, software, etc. These departments own their software and the websites.
These are funded in different manners: 1. the general fund; 2. services provided in kind;
and 3. through fundraising.
We have a very uneven playing field to utilize websites. City Arts is very robust. Others
are very dated.
This decentralized approach creates much redundancy – the ability to maintain these and
sustain is compounded by the many different content management systems.
Inconsistencies in navigation and appearance create confusion.
Inability to leverage advanced functionality.
Tim presented a graph showing the different websites and the number of hits on each.
Creation of a web governance committee. Vision includes a common content
management system. This would create efficiencies with regard to managing
information, training, provides redundancy in ability to maintain, reduce time lag which
we have been experiencing. This results in only one website. Navigation systems are all
the same.
Categories of organization discussed by IT staff include Citizen Services (see handout),
Communication, (handout), and eGovernment (see handout).
The list serve referred to by Ken identified as an example a consistent content
management system would provide.
Tim showed the Santa Fe website as a robust example of a municipal website.
Tim Ashe suggested homework for the committee to drill down into some details of the
website to experience some of the challenges.
Joan Shannon – What are the obstacles to having the city council packet on the website?
How does it happen? Would it be difficult to do this? What are the obstacles to getting
to the Sante Fe website?
Tim Barden – The City does not have a document management system to do this. Would
be a large and expensive initiative. Many systems out there that do this. We might be
able to convert to PDFs and distribute that way. Resources limited to do this. Want to
head into this electronic packet direction. Question of having the time and personnel able
to do this. Our intention is to move toward the Sante Fe model, last step is the funding of
this initiative.
David Mindich – RSS/List serves – are these in the works? Can I be on the list serve
Tim Barden – We do not have the facility do to that right now. Some departments may
be able to. Moving to be able to do this with the content management system.
Steve McIntyre – Making PDFs, that is just an extra step. What CMS are you
Tim Barden – not specifically defined yet. Couple of broad categories for how this is
being done now. Several companies specializing in government systems. The advantage
of these is that they understand the complexities. Downside is there are limitations in the
ability to customization of the systems. The other category which is the traditional
middle market systems. Come with more abilities and are more expensive. Lastly, there
are the open source tools. Downside is the maintenance and support of these tools, may
also not be robust enough to do what we need to do.
Tim Ashe – probably have you come back as the committee will likely have more
Kristin Lonerwright – HR Director presentation.
1. Scope of workforce
2. Personnel policy
3. Recruitment process
4. Access to information
Provided handouts
There are 18 departments and 665 employees. Supplement wit 300 temporary
employees. 4 collective bargaining units.
Except for the City Charter and ordinances that speak to these policies, the Personnel
Policy covers this.
Can provide the policy if necessary.
The Human Resources/Institutions Committee of the City Council is the conduit for
policy change to the Personnel Policy Manual. Just recently, have gone through updating
this. HR director required to review/update every other year. Very lengthy warned
process to update this, including employees, departments and public hearings. Final
version of amendments go to City Council for approval.
Including in this is the recruitment process. Job postings are posted for seven days in the
HR office and City Hall, put on website, job hotline and advertised locally in Seven
Days, sometimes the Free Press, trade journals and occasionally in Boston papers.
Department will also mail posting and application if necessary. Also follow EEO
requirements. Cost is a concern and directed by Depts. Maintain a list of organizations
that reach out to the EEO populations, we email, fax, and send postings to these
organizations. Encourage depts. to post with their professional organizations. (See
We are required to maintain a file of all relevant material related to a posting. We have
had requests for that information and we make that available. Will disclose the posting
file including the names of applicants interviewed and the resume of those selected. We
redact the personal information. We keep all applications on file for six months.
Maintain job descriptions for all positions in the city and this information is public. (see
Personnel files are in general confidential except for the Personnel Listing in the budget.
Other information such as grievances or related personnel actions is confidential as well.
Health records are confidential.
Changes to benefits must go through the Human Resources Committee and the Board of
Finance. This would be two opportunities for the public to engage.
Tim Ashe – How well information was communicated to applicants about positions and
how decisions were made was a concern of the City Council. Can that prior
communication can be forwarded to the committee?
Geoff Crawford – requests for personnel records an issue?
Kristin Lonerwright – not really an issue.
Tim Ashe – assuming we can go to 9:15 pm
David White Planning and Zoning Director Presentation.
Statutory requirements for the Development Review Process
Local Ordinances Requirements
Local Practice – articulates how we do this.
Projects fall into two categories: Administrative or DRB required
(see handouts)
Every meeting of the public bodies working with the Planning and Zoning Department
are subject to the Open Meeting Law.
Statutory Requirements of 24 VSA CH 117 detail the posting requirements:
DRB Public Hearings: 15 day public notice, publication in a newspaper of general
circulation; posting in three or more public places, mailing to all properties adjoining the
property subject to development. Includes conditional uses and variances.
DRB meetings other than Public Hearings: 7 day notice; posting in three or more public
places; mailing to all properties adjoining the property subject to development.
Public posting of permits issued; (during the appeal period) 15 day posting on property;
within three days of issuance- delivery of permit to listers (City Assessor’s office),
posting in one of more public places.
Our local ordinances mimics the State requirements with some minor differences: For
Administrative Decisions requires a public notice of application and a public posting of
the permit. For DRB Proceedings the city requires public notice of application; meeting
notice, public hearing notice, notice of decision to applicant and participants within 45
days of close of hearing and public posting of permit.
Local practice in general calls for all applications to be posted where they are clearly
visible from a public way (the Z card, leading the way with this as we require it upon
issuance); listing of all applications currently under review and their current status online
(updated daily, not searchable); Planning staff is available to answer questions; posting
of permits issued in Clerk’s office with copies to Assessor in 3 days and Dept of P/Z
website hosts much information including applications, checklists, ordinances, and
Local practice for DRB Review calls for direct mailing of the DRB notice sent to all
property owners adjoining, additionally staff makes every effort to expand this list based
on proximity in every direction; all meeting agendas available online and posted in City
Hall; all meeting notices are included in City’s public meetings listing posted in City
Hall, online and listed in public newspapers; public hearing notices are published in
Seven Days and posted in City Hall; all participants in a DRB hearing, and anyone upon
written request, receive full future meeting notices regarding the proposed project
including the final decision; all DRB Hearings are open to the public to attend and
participation is not limited to ‘interested parties’; most DRB Hearings are held in
Contois Auditorium; most DRB deliberative sessions are open (do not have to be open)
to the public to attend but not participate; all advisory boards are publicly noticed and
open to the public to attend and participate.
Local practice for the Planning Commission; all meetings subject to the open meeting
law; all meeting agendas available online; all meeting notices included in City’s public
meetings listing and publication in local papers and online; when applicable, public
hearing notices published in Seven Days; direct mailing of agendas sent to all
department heads, Mayor, city councilors, and NPA steering committees; anyone upon
written request will be put on a mailing list to receive all future meeting notices.
In general we cast a broader net than is required by law with regard to public notice.
Much of this is not prescribed anywhere. Currently working on documenting for
Tim Ashe – Private individual presents information for a project to a department, is this
now public?
David White – Anything they leave with the P/Z department is public. We encourage
applicant to communicate with neighbors about project and get people involved with this.
Get people involved in that.
Steve McIntyre – Is Technical Review Committee public.
David White – TRC meeting are not publicly warned, public can attend but not
participate, it is an administrative process. Not a public body, comprised of city staff.
Steve McIntyre – Would you consider inviting NPA?
David White – Technical meeting. Encourage applicant to go to NPA and share project.
Steve McIntyre – NPA could attend
David White - sure
Bill Stuono – Can plans of projects be made available on line? Is there way to expand
notice downtown?
David White – have experimented with scanning the DRB packets. DRB decided they
did not have the band width and printing capacity to accommodate this. Have the
capability; it is a resource issue and storage capacity and access for the general public.
Expanding notice becomes a budget issue and expense to provide direct notice. We can
cast the net as large or small. The policy is subject to interpretation.
Tim Ashe – who do you suppose notice for Westlake?
David White – can’t say for sure, but there is a record somewhere.
Tim Ashe – perhaps this may be a good example to look at.
David White – not many close residents.
Tim Ashe – can you think about this and provide that information like a status quo within
the downtown.
Dan Fivel – Granting of waivers – when developers are allowed to do things different
from the original request.
David White – Waivers are considered in the context of the information gathered at the
public hearing and subject to public hearing notice.
????? – Surprised to hear notices in Seven Days.
David White – There is a legal notice section in Seven Days where these are printed.
Next Meeting will be June 25, 2008 at 645 Pine Street, Conference Room, 7 PM – 9 PM.
Adjourned 9:24 PM


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