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Towns Take Down Websites In Response to New Open Meeting Law

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2014-07-15

by Steph Machado

MONTPELIER - Some towns are struggling to keep up with a new Vermont law.

The updated Open Meeting Law was passed by the Legislature in May as an effort to make towns and cities more transparent, and bring the current law into the digital age.

The law went into effect this month. One new requirement is that towns and cities post meeting minutes on their websites with 5 days, if they have and maintain an official site. Already, the towns of Bolton and Montgomery have taken down their websites in response.

Bolton's homepage has a message explaining why the site is down. In part, it says "the time provided by the state to ensure that we have systems in place and every committee prepared to consistently meet these timelines is far too short for us to be able to state with confidence that we can meet these new web publishing deadlines."

The Bolton Town Clerk declined to do an interview Tuesday.

"We've been getting a lot of questions about how they're going to be able to comply with the new law," said Steven Jeffrey with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. The organization represents the municipalities of Vermont and is working to help towns and cities comply with the new law.

"Not everyone's a webmaster," Jeffrey said. "Not everyone is young enough to know how to do this stuff. They don't have their own Facebook pages, they don't have the technical capability to do this."

Sharon Combes-Farr is part of the Vermont Digital Economy Project, created by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Along with the Snelling Center for Government, the project helped create websites for 20 Vermont municipalities.

"We would never say that every town in Vermont needs to have a website, but more and more I think citizens in Vermont and everywhere are expecting immediate access to information," Combes-Farr said.

She suggests towns update to a simpler content management system, such as WordPress, so it will be easier to upload PDFs of minutes after meetings.

"If you're given the right tools, really any town could comply with this law," she said.

"A lot of these websites are up there, and maybe once a month someone will update," Jeffrey explained. "But if you've got to do this every 5 days for every board, every commission, every committee in town, that's a huge responsibility."

The penalties for not complying with the web requirements will not be enforced until next year.

Find the original article here.