The Vermont tradition of holding local elections on the first Tuesday of March won’t be taking place that day in Isle La Motte this year. The Selectboard has called off the Town Meeting Day elections; a new date will be determined next week.
The impetus for the delay was a former board member who recently accused the current board of open meeting law violations and conducting a secretive budget process. State leaders took notice and told the town to start over.
This past Saturday, The Islander reported that the Isle La Motte Selectboard refused to allow any public feedback on the town’s budget proposal before approving the ballot language for it. According to the newspaper, the board has also held at least three meetings since late December that it didn’t tell people about in advance.
Former Selectboard member Sylvia Jensen learned about two of the secret meetings after the fact and filed an open meeting law complaint, which the board declined to act upon. Jensen then escalated her complaint to Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan’s office. During Wednesday night’s emergency Selectboard meeting, Jensen asked if the state’s written notice to the town — to cancel next Tuesday’s election and re-schedule it — could become part of the minutes.
“Will you be including the Attorney General’s letter of February 18th,” Jensen could be heard asking from outside of camera range, “explaining the action that you just did? Otherwise, this is sort of unprecedented.”
Rustam Spaulding, the Selectboard’s senior member, told Jensen he didn’t agree, noting that the town has run into problems with election procedure several times in recent years. “In 2014, we had to rescind the warning,” Spaulding said. “In 2017, we had to rescind the budget and re-do. In 2018, we had to rescind and re-warn on 1/24/18. Again in 2018, we had to rescind, revise and re-warn the budget on 1/31.”
Jensen asked him, “Why were these all those rescindings and re-votes?”
“Because there were mistakes,” Spaulding replied.
“Because they weren’t warned properly,” Jensen said.
The election can’t take place until at least 30 days after the public is notified of it. The board’s next meeting is Wednesday, March 3, “at which point, we will warn for the voting,” Selectboard chair Selby Turner said. “Which will probably — it’ll be 30 days, which probably, I think, is April 2, but we can discuss that at the meeting to make sure.”
Isle La Motte is holding an informational meeting about its Town Meeting Day ballot items — including the budget — this Saturday at 10:00 a.m. The town’s link to the Zoom meeting can be found here.