BY MICHAEL DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
ISLE LA MOTTE -- The town of Isle La Motte has plans to postpone its March town meeting after coming to agreement with the Vermont Secretary of State and Attorney General concerning possible flaws in adopting the proposed annual budget and warning the town wide vote, officials said.
The postponement is still subject to the full ILM Selectboard taking formal action to cancel the March 2 vote and coming up with a new plan and voting date. The new date must be at least 30 days after the Selectboard can sign a new public warning and post it alerting voters about the issues to be considered and also after a publicly warned informational meeting is conducted.
The mailing of town and union school district ballots had been held up in recent days while Isle La Motte and state officials attempted to sort out a few municipal election problems.
Meanwhile officials with the Champlain Islands Unified Union School District were scrambling on Friday to get school ballots in the mail to the roughly 465 Isle La Motte residents on the town checklist.
The union school ballots were expected to be mailed earlier with the town ballots, but Clerk and Treasurer Sarah Noble said late Thursday afternoon the municipal ballots were on hold until more was learned from Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan and Secretary of State Jim Condos.
North Hero and Grand Isle had earlier mailed both union school district and town ballots together.
Attempts to reach Selby Turner, chair of the ILM Selectboard, were unsuccessful.
Rusty Spaulding, the senior Selectboard member, said the town plans to have at least one informational meeting on Saturday Feb. 27. Another meeting, which was proposed at the last minute for today, is off.
The Attorney General's office said part of the need to pull the plug on the March 2 vote was due to the Isle La Motte Selectboard never allowing town taxpayers a chance to weigh in at any time during the budget building process in recent months.
If the ILM Selectboard does formally postpone the town vote, it will eliminate one of the other problems expected on Town Meeting Day. The union school district had agreed on Jan. 19 to have day-long voting on March 2 at the Isle La Motte town offices.
During a Jan. 26 meeting, the Isle La Motte Selectboard voted to have voting on March 2 -- at the same time 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- but at the town's elementary school about a half mile away.
ILM residents opting for in-person voting would have been required to go to both the school and town offices to cast their respective ballots.
The switch in the town meeting date is due in part to the ILM Selectboard conducting at least three secret meetings the public was never warned were happening, according to Assistant Attorney General Michelle Anderson, who is chief of the Administrative Law Division.
Former Selectboard member Sylvia Jensen filed a complaint at a Dec. 29 Selectboard meeting when she learned the 3-member panel had secret, unposted meetings on Dec. 21 and Dec. 28. The Selectboard later acknowledged it held a third unannounced budget workshop in January.
When the Selectboard took no action on Jensen's open government complaint, she filed a formal protest with the Vermont Attorney General.
Turner, as chairman, maintained no board decisions were made on the budget, Anderson said. The Selectboard later acknowledged the work sessions did violate Vermont law and promised to warn future budget sessions. The Selectboard also agreed to allow the public to weigh in on the budget.
Yet during a Jan. 26 meeting, the Selectboard -- in one single motion -- approved its proposed $535,971 town budget and the official warning for all ballot items. When Jensen and another resident tried to ask questions, they were waved off and told "no questions."
Will Senning, chief of elections for the Secretary of State's Office, said it was important to hold an informational meeting and take questions.
"They need to take feedback and they need a new warning," Senning told The Islander.
Anderson agreed with Senning in her letter to Turner, as board chair, late Thursday afternoon.
"You agreed to cure any violation by ensuring all such meetings would be open in the future. You further stated that the public would have an opportunity to comment on the budget materials assembled prior to the opportunity to vote on it," Anderson wrote.
"Although the Board addressed the matter in a subsequent public meeting and announced that such budget sessions would be open in the future, you did not provide the opportunity for the public to comment on the budget," she said.
"This omission makes the proposed cure ineffective," Anderson said in the 2-page letter that also was sent to Jensen and The Islander.
"Upon further discussion, you agreed to hold an additional public meeting, providing the public with an opportunity to make comments and present questions on the budget," she wrote.
Anderson said for the cure to be effective, the meeting needs to be held prior to the public voting.
"This necessitates a delay in the voting date to comply with applicable election laws," she said.
Anderson said Turner, on behalf of the town, agreed Isle La Motte would take several steps proposed by the Secretary of State's office to ensure the violation is cured and the town complies with Vermont election laws.
"I further advise that you work with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to update the Board’s training on open meetings, Anderson said at the end of her outlining the corrective steps.
The Islander will update this news story for the print edition.
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