Hinesburg Citizens Group Alleges Officials Violated Open Meeting Law

Aug 2, 2016

A Hinesburg citizens group opposing the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline filed a complaint Monday alleging that some town officials and company representatives violated Vermont's open meeting law. 

It further alleges that the alleged off-book discussion resulted in an agreement between the town and the Vermont Gas, which was voted through last Thursday.  

The Hinesburg Select Board subcommittee meeting held last Wednesday was open to the public, says Rachel Smolker of the Hinesburg citizens group Protect Geprags Park.

“The subcommittee met and then adjourned. And then somebody who happened to be in the room realized that there was ongoing discussion between VGS [Vermont Gas Systems] lawyers, town lawyer and others—after the public had been essentially dismissed and some of the subcommittee members had been essentially dismissed,” says Smolker.

Smolker says that important conversations relevant to the pipeline occurred after the meeting.

“Then the next day, indeed an amendment — that no one from subcommittee who had left at that point was aware of, so this emerged during those after-conversations — came to the table with an amended version of the agreement,” says Smolker.

This agreement allows the pipeline to be constructed and pass through a Hinesburg wetland. It stipulates that Vermont Gas must use horizontal drilling – as opposed to open trenches—and will pay the town $250,000 dollars for easement rights.

The chairperson of the select board did not return a call for comment.

Another select board member, Andrea Morgante, says she says she does not know what discussions — if any at all — happened after the subcommittee meeting Wednesday evening. She is not on the subcommittee and wasn’t present.

However, Morgante says she was surprised that the board chairperson moved to vote on an agreement between Vermont Gas and the Town of Hinesburg at the meeting the following day.

“I really anticipated that the meeting was more going to be some listening to public comment, those of us on the board expressing our opinion and suggestions for it, but that there wasn't going to be a vote,” says Morgante.

Morgante says it was always possible there was going to be a vote, and that the motion was brought to a vote in full accordance with meeting rules. But she says it was unusual that select board members were not given a written copy of the agreement to review before voting.

The town select board has 10 days to respond to the complaint of violation of the open meeting law.

Disclosure: One of VPR’s weekend announcers is a Hinesburg Select Board member.