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Attorney general denies open meeting violation

The Vermont attorney general’s office found insufficient evidence to investigate the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board for three open meeting violations alleged by a former board member.

Heidi Spear, who served on the HUUSD Board until September 2017, has filed three Open Meeting Law complaints against the school board.

The first violation, she said, happened on May 24 through an improper executive session. Board member Gabe Gilman, the former board vice chair, and The Valley Reporter also filed complaints regarding the same executive session as did board member Jill Ellis, Fayston.

The second violation, Spear asserts, was when the board authorized the district’s superintendent, Brigid Nease, to hire a second principal at Thatcher Brook Primary School after the budget had passed on Town Meeting Day.

Her third complaint is that the board published an inadequate public agenda for a board retreat on September 13.

Deputy Attorney General Sarah London addressed both concerns in a letter to Spear on March 8.

“At this time, there is insufficient evidence of an on-going issue related to this portion of your complaint that warrants the filing of an enforcement action by the Attorney General’s office,” London wrote of Spear’s first complaint regarding the May 24 executive session.

Under Vermont statute, local governmental bodies are able to enter into an executive session for specific reasons, for a quasi-judicial hearing, when premature public knowledge would place the board or an individual at a substantial disadvantage, to negotiate contracts, and for discussions with the board’s attorney.

The board entered into executive session on May 24 to discuss personnel contracts. Spear says that the two-hour-long session was a personal attack on board members with dissenting opinions.

London mentions that no binding action took place during the executive session and that no board member asked to exit the executive session while it was happening. Additionally, she states that the board has agreed to undergo further training regarding the Open Meeting Law and executive sessions. That training was scheduled for February and did not happen. It has been rescheduled for April 24.

London also stated that the hiring process for the additional principal at Thatcher Brook was compliant with applicable laws and that Superintendent Nease’s recommendation of the position was publicly available.

“In addition, the hiring and approval process related to the assistant principal position appears to have complied with applicable notice requirements,” London wrote.

Lastly, the agenda that was posted for the board’s September 13 retreat included five items, including one called “facilitated discussion.” The facilitated discussion item was also a hyperlink, so when viewed online the reader could click on it and read a much more thorough agenda. However, when printed the hyperlink and additional information is not available.

“I understand the board has heard your concern that, when posted in a paper format, a hyperlink may not be obvious to the reader and the board will revisit this in future agendas that involve a hyperlink,” London wrote.

A copy of the London’s letter can be viewed here.

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The Valley Reporter - serving Vermont's Mad River Valley since 1971