SB City Council: (L to R) Sandy Dooley, Pam Mackenzie (clerk), City Manager Sandy Miller, Rosanne Greco (chair), Helen Riehle (vice chair), Paul Engels and secretary Sue Alenick.


A Fresh Start for a New City Council

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Thursday March 22, 2012

The City Council is off to a good start after Jim Barlow, senior staff attorney at the Municipal Assistance Center, VLCT (Vermont League of Cities and Towns), coached the Council on understanding their responsibilities, staying transparent to the residents of the city, and keeping a positive attitude about the city’s future.

SB is among 52 other Vermont municipalities operating under the manager form of government. At the March 14th meeting, Barlow explained the duties and responsibilities of this form of government.  

The manager, who reports to the council, is responsible for administrative and management functions, and operational decisions. Managerial activity, as described by Barlow, includes “1) directing and coordinating the activity of others, 2) Accounting for the performance of others, 3) obtaining, analyzing, and presenting information to others, 4) making operational decisions that reflect established policy priorities. 

This allows the board to focus on leadership and policy issues, and to ensure that management and administrative functions are being carried out by the manager.
Barlow went on to describe policy setting activity as “1) establishing goals and priorities, 2) deliberating and choosing from a list of alternatives,  3) establishing protocols that govern future behavior, 4)advocating for values and perspectives.”

When Councilor Paul Engels asked whether the South Burlington City Charter needed to be re-written at any point, Barlow smiled. The City Charter had impressed him.  “I’ve read many, many charters,” he said. “The City Charter for South Burlington is one of the best written Charters in the State of Vermont.”  He explained, also, that the Charter would always be an organic document that can be changed periodically.
Barlow shared his thoughts regarding success, and stressed that the City Council keep working at getting better but not to expect perfection, and to remember that these are human relationships they are dealing with.

According to Barlow, the definition of a meeting is a gathering of a quorum of the members of a public body for the purposes of discussing the business of said body or for the purposes of taking any action. He advised Council to always err on the side of caution as any gathering could be considered a meeting.  All meetings must be open to the public except site inspections, routine day-to-day administrative matters, and deliberations in quasi-judicial proceedings, and executive session. The vote must be unanimous for the Council to hold a meeting, and the Council must have a reason why they are meeting, which protects the  interest of the group. Decisions are not binding until they are made in front of the public. 

“Meetings in the public are different than meetings of the public,” Barlow said. He stressed that City Council meetings are not Town Meetings, and they should not be treated as such. 

In an effort to be sure that the public has opportunities to be heard, Council decided they would regularly allow time for public comment. Resident George Maille asked how one gets his/her issue on a City Council meeting agenda.  The Council agreed that they would make the process much more clear in upcoming meetings. The Council will make every effort to ensure that residents’ and non-residents’ voices are heard.

Regarding Public Record, Barlow explained that it is defined as “Any written or recorded information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which is produced or acquired in the course of public agency business,” V.S.A317 (b). “Not only is the net large, but the ocean has no shores,” Barlow said, pointing to his slide with a photo of a ship at sea on it. He urged the Council to consider including a Public Records Act warning within all emails, stating that, “Any response or reply to this electronic message may be subject to the Vermont Public Records Act.” The Council was been advised to exercise caution when it comes to communication as they move forward into a more technology-driven future.

“Use e-mail to disseminate information,” he said, “not to discuss board business or make decisions.” Email is considered public record, and should be used carefully, and never deleted. Additionally, it was agreed that the Council will not conduct business via personal email addresses.

SOURSE: Lisa Mattingly, Correspondent