Municipal Ethics (H.875) - April 19, 2024

Christina Sivret (Executive Director, Vermont State Ethics Commission) thanked Senate Government Operations Committee for their comments on bill. She continued on to propose changes to the current language, which addresses many issues of concern in numerous areas to include the sections on disclosure, voluntary compliance, assets from individual stockholdings, loans, conflicts known to applicant. Chairwoman Hardy was pleased that many of the changes are addressing concerns based on previous testimony. 

There was a discussion of the reporting of investment funds of $25K or more. Hardy asked why it was so high as her memory was that most other states used a $10K threshold. A discussion ensued and it was agreed to flag this item for future discussion and agreement to reduce the number to $10K.

Sivret noted that the Makeup of the Commission is different than other States and she advised a “course correction” now to avoid any “challenges in the future.” The Commission would now include some government officials appointed by the Legislature and the Governor to meet Constitutional requirements. Language will need to be tweaked to reflect usual practice of appointments by Speaker of the House and Senate Pro Tempore. Two municipal officers also need to be added to balance the representation out.  

Ted Brady (Executive Director, Vermont League of Cities and Towns) spoke to the Committee next. Hardy asked if he had submitted proposed language changes and he had not. She noted that next Wednesday would be a deadline. He responded that the League is still “uncomfortable with having a statewide ethics code, but they can support it if the bill passes.” He and others are worried about local control, but on the positive side, he noted, the bill will “provide more access to legal minds.” 

He added that if training requirements can be narrowed, they would “most appreciate it.” The League is also concerned about recording and investigating complaints. They would like to see the language tucked into the municipal statutes’ existing codes. One area which is still contentious is ‘whistleblowing’. How the bill works within a municipality needs to be discussed and agreed upon with all parties, he contended. 

Sue Ceglowski (Executive Director, Vermont School Boards Association) reviewed with the Committee what they do with regard to ethics training and enforcement among school board members throughout the State.  They offer training and monthly webinars on various topics, including ethics. 

Representative Waters Evans, reporter of the bill, chimed in that they had discussed including school boards in the House and it was agreed that this would be something they would consider including them in the future but added that school boards would probably require more staff at the Commission and also access to broader legal advice.

Hardy announced that an updated draft will be available at the next committee discussion and that additional work will need to be done, particularly with regard to whistleblowers. 

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