The Vermont State Ethics Commission presented a $210,353 budget to the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, plus its annual report for 2023. Christina Sivret (Executive Director, Vermont State Ethics Commission) noted that the Commission received fifteen complaints (a 400% increase), twenty-nine complaint inquiries (a 163% increase), four advisory opinion requests (a 100% increase), and twenty-five guidance requests (a 19% increase) in 2023.
The Commission also researched and drafted a report for the Legislature on a municipal ethics framework for Vermont and developed and online filing system for financial disclosures filed with the Ethics Commission.
The Annual Report provided the following recommendations:
- The Ethics Commission recommends that the Legislature implement the recommendations for a municipal ethics framework for Vermont, including the adoption of a municipal code of ethics, expanding the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission to include municipal ethics, and the adoption of whistleblower protections for municipal complaints.
- The Ethics Commission recommends the Legislature continue to consider the issue of an independent enforcement protocol for the State Code of Ethics, as well as for a potential future municipal Code of Ethics.
- The Ethics Commission recommends that the Legislature ensure the funding of the Ethics Commission and taking into consideration its increasing workload, include funding for a full-time Executive Director and one staff counsel.
Brenda Barry from the Vermont Agency of Administration was present and asked about where the funding comes from currently for the Commission. Barry explained that currently funding comes from the Department of Human Resources and the State’s internal service fund. There is an open question about where the funding will come from should municipalities come under the State’s Code of Ethics, falling under the Commission’s oversight. Currently, as noted above in the recommendations, the Commission is asking that the Executive Directors position be full-time and that the Commission hire a full-time attorney. If this occurs the budget will be increased by an additional $150,000. The current budget, minus staff, increase over 2023 is $20,926.
The Committee noted that it needed to check with the House Government Operations Committee.