Braintree Considers Disconnecting Its Town Website
The town of Braintree's website went online nine years ago this month. The site gives basic information about town services; lists upcoming board, committee and commission meetings; posts announcements; and prominently displays meeting minutes. But all of that could go away, because one group is having trouble getting its minutes posted in the five days dictated by Vermont's recently updated Open Meeting Law.
Changes to the law went into effect on July 1. The law states towns with websites must post all meeting agendas and minutes on the website, as well as at designated physical locations in town. Vermont's Open Meeting Law has long dictated that minutes must be posted within five days of a meeting, and that timeframe now also applies to posting minutes online. Beginning next year, towns could be penalized for failing to comply.
In Braintree, Select Board Chairman Timothy Caulfield reported that one group in town is having trouble meeting that requirement. Select Board minutes from November 4 state, "It has come to Mr. Caulfield’s attention that one of the Town Committees/Commissions is having difficulties preparing minutes for posting on the website within the required time. The board discussed whether ... to continue having a website or not. It will be discussed more at the next meeting. The board is considering asking the voters at Town Meeting Day what they would like done."
If it does take down its website, Braintree wouldn't be alone. This week the Addison Independent ran a story about Addison and Starksboro taking down their sites, and Starksboro's successful effort to get back online. Montgomery's website has been down since the new Open Meeting Law took effect in July.
The decision to take down a town website if unable to comply with the law is a strategy promoted by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. When the law was enacted VLCT advised its member cities and towns, "Prepare your municipality’s website, if there is one, so that you will be ready to post agendas before meetings and minutes five days after those meetings occur,” the league said. “Or de-activate the website to avoid violating this requirement.”
Mount Holly took a middle road. Instead of complying with the new law requirements or taking down its website, the town left in place but disavowed its website, posting on the following on its homepage:
Welcome to the unofficial website for the people of the Town of Mount Holly!
We are working to make the site easier to maintain by providing access for key people with the real scoop on what’s happening. These people will be able to update their organization or group info when ever necessary. If you are one of those key people or would like your group represented on the site please let us know. Contact Kevin Neubert at the Belmont General Store right away.
Changes in the Vermont Open Meeting Law took effect July 1, 2014. At the July 8, 2014 Selectboard meeting, the Board voted to NOT designate this website as an official site of the Town of Mount Holly, Vermont.
Meanwhile, The Vermont Council on Rural Development and the Snelling Center for Government have been working with Vermont towns to build and maintain websites. The Snelling Center has also published a primer to help towns comply with the law.
Braintree's next select board discussion on the status of its website will happen on Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. at the Town Office.