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Ways for the public to have their say in public affairs

By Rob Wheeler


In our last article, the Wilmington selectboard discussed the format of our town government and the various roles the selectboard and town manager fill. In this issue the board will discuss the format of our weekly meetings and the various ways you can have input in the decision making process.

At our regularly scheduled meetings, the selectboard has an agenda that we follow. This agenda is a combination of items that are addressed on a weekly basis, such as our list of goals and objectives and the progress made on those, items that are reviewed according to the time of year, such as year-end budgets, and things that come up week to week that need to be addressed and are placed on the agenda for the board’s consideration.

The agenda almost always starts with the list of goals and objectives. This is to keep these items fresh on our minds and to talk about any progress made or thoughts, suggestions and ideas concerning such. We follow by inviting the public and/or visitors to comment. If you have comments about a particular agenda item or something on the list of goals and objectives, this is one of your opportunities to be heard. It is important that you identify yourself for the public record, when you address the selectboard. While we are on this subject, let’s take a look at what other avenues you have for input. If you have a particular issue or issues that you would like addressed, there are a number of options.

First, please feel free to contact any member of the selectboard or the town manager or both to air your concerns. It is vitally important that we hear from you folks. While we as individual members of the board cannot act on any particular issue, there are instances where maybe just an explanation would help to understand a situation. If it’s more than an explanation, then a board member will bring it to the full board’s attention via an article on the agenda. If you think you’d rather not address a board member individually, then you can send the board a letter, detailing your concerns, and possible options for resolution. We quite regularly have mail in our board packets from the public that we read and consider. If the letter writer is in the audience at our selectboard meeting, they are asked if they wish to address the nature of the letter directly to us. If you feel an item warrants it, you can contact the town manager’s office and ask that an item be placed on the selectboard agenda for the next meeting.

Next on the selectboard agenda is “Selectboard/Manager” comments. These cover a wide range and may be related to things we have talked to townspeople about or actions taken by the town or questions about town affairs. These aspects of the selectboard meetings are fairly well set and occur every meeting. From this point on the agenda is a list of things that need the board’s attention and have to do with the business of running the town.

Lately, more often than not, the selectboard has had to go into executive session. Now, understand, the board can’t just go willy-nilly into executive session any time we feel like, even though that’s the way it sometimes appears. There are a few reasons, under the Vermont statutes, why the board would consider going into executive session. A motion must be made, stating the nature of business to be discussed in executive session and a majority vote to go into the session must be recorded in the minutes. No decisions can be made until the board is back in open session, and no other topic may be discussed. The only exception to this is the securing of real estate options. Some of the topics that a board may wish to enter into executive session would be contracts, any grievances, or labor relations, any civil actions, or lawsuits, where public knowledge might jeopardize the outcome of the topic being discussed.

Finally, the last agenda item is “Other Business.” This serves as a catch-all, and sometimes the board will discuss an item that came up after the agenda was printed.

As you can see, the meeting agenda is structured with the intention of giving the people a chance to have their say. It is important to remember that the selectboard meetings are not town meetings, but meetings in which the town carries out it’s business. The selectboard appreciates the contributions from those of you who have been regular attendees the last few months and we hope you will understand our desire to work through an agenda in a business like fashion. The selectboard continues to seek your input and reminds you to come and be part of the solution.

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