Municipal Ethics (H.875) - April 11, 2024

The Senate Government Operations Committee returned to the ethics bill, H.875 on Thursday afternoon. Chairwoman Hardy noted that they have been given an overview from Legislative Counsel and that Christina Sivret (Executive Director, Ethics Commission) would be the first individual testifying on the bill.  She introduced TJ Jones, an ethics expert consulting for the Commission. Sivret noted that it is a very long bill and provided several documents of written testimony, including highlights of areas of interest, quick summary of, and unfunded mandates.  She also provided a report from January on the proposed municipal ethics framework for Vermont.

She had several corrections to the bill that she asked the Committee for.

  1. Clarify that the Commission’s only role in disclosure forms is drafting them. Forms are filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
  2. Close a loophole that was inadvertently opened in the draft that was approved by the House. The final draft forgot to include the disclosure of commercially unreasonable loans that are given to the candidate or their spouse.
  3. The Commission strongly suggests not creating a new definition of County officer for the purposes of exempting certain categories of county officers. This was contrary to the purpose of ethics legislation.
  4. The Commission requested that the tow municipal officers to be added to the Commission be appointed by the Legislature and Governor instead of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT). This would maintain an odd number of commissioners’ (important for voting purposes) and maintain the credibility of the Ethics Commission while doubling municipal representation (VLCT opposed oversight of municipal ethics.

Sivret also assured the Committee that the language in the bill would give respondents the opportunity to engage in resolution agreements, during the early stages of the complaint process and maintain confidentiality as it relates to personally identifying information. She then provided a summary of the municipal code of ethics, which we have reported on previously.

The Joint Fiscal Office provided a letter regarding unfunded mandates in the municipal ethics bill, which include

  1. Conflict of Interest
    “Sets forth specific actions that municipality and a municipal officer must undertake when a conflict of interest is determined to exist and the officer determines that there is ‘good cause’ to proceed without recusal. However, these actions are not significantly different than the actions required by the conflict of interest policies that municipalities previously adopted under current law.”

  2. Ethics Training
    “Requires municipal officers to complete ethics training, as approved by the State Ethics Commission (SEC) within 120 days of their election or appointment and every three years thereafter. Although it is not explicit in the draft bill my understanding is that the SEC will manage the ongoing cost of these trainings rather than municipalities.  The training requirement itself is not burdensome and may fall within the existing duties of municipal officers.”
    In addition each municipality must designate a senior level employee as its liaison to the SEC.  The responsibilities of the liaison as outlined in the bill are not burdensome and may fall within the existing duties of senior employees.

  3. Enforcement and Remedies
    “While this section imposes no costs on municipalities, it does create work associated with record keeping and reporting requirements. However, the specific tasks in the draft bill are not burdensome and may fall within the existing duties of city and town clerks or other relevant municipal entities.

  4. Whistleblower Protection
    “The bill limits remedies to injunctive relief, reinstatement, backpay and benefits, reasonable attorney fees, and punitive damages not more than $5,000. Municipal liability insurance may exist or be available to limit financial exposure for violating the statute. 


The next presenter was Lauren Hibbert (Deputy Secretary of State) who noted for the most part the Secretary of State (SOS) supports the bill. They supported almost all of the suggested changes except for the Enforcement and Remedies, which is effective upon passage. They felt this might be too quick of a turnaround for towns to achieve compliance.

She also requested further clarification regarding who would do the training for in-office municipal officials, and what type of training and what it would include.  She wondered if training on Open Meeting Law and State’s Public Records Act should be included as the training the SOS provides is almost 2.4 hours long. She explained that the Open Meeting Law and Public Records Act training, if done in detail, are very much intertwined and cannot be separated.








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