A new Open Meeting Law complaint has been filed. The reason being 9 meetings were held in 2018 concerning the new water project. Nobody knew these meetings were going on. The were never noticed. Thousands of dollars were signed off with no authorization by Steve Barrup. No explanation of what the money to be used for. The other select men did not go to any of the meetings. The select board has ten business days to respond to this complaint. A special meeting will arranged bu the town clerk. This has to be done by law. The meeting will be videotaped Stay tuned. In the meantime, read the complaint below.

Complaint of open Meeting Law Violation
January 9th 2019
Newport Center VT
Pursuant
to 1 V.S.A. § 314 any person aggrieved by a violation of that law must provide the public body with written notice that alleges a specific violation and requests a specific cure of such violation.

Against –
The Selectboard and Town Clerk of Newport Center
Complainant

Barry Sahagian

46 Vance Hill Road, Newport Center, VT 05857

Email – info@townnewport.com
Phone 802 334 2437

Basis for Complaint

In 2018 there were 9 water meetings concerning a million dollar water system in which orders were drawn and signed to allow claims for payment to contractors from the town. The meetings were attended by Steve Barrup, the Select board Chair and Denise Daigle from the Body, Elliot/Aldridge water system engineers , other contractors involved and USDA reps.
The select board consists of three selectmen, Steve Barrup was the only one of the three present. Steve Barrup signed all the draw orders for payment which occurred at each of the meetings. The town clerk informed me that Steve was delegated to represent the select board at these meetings. Per VSA 312 this action of delegation has to be taken at an open meeting where the select board required to vote this approval. VSA 312. This was not done.

The meetings were not noticed, no minutes taken. Draw Orders for funds did not state definitely the purpose for which each is drawn. VSA 1623 A. Steve Barrup was not authorized to sign the pay orders which were done each of the 9 meetings. An expedient initiated by the town clerk was the claim that the water meetings were not meetings because a quorum was not present. It is unknown the arrangement that allowed two of the select board member to not attend the 9 meetings. It appears that it be a subterfuge to deny the people transparency of the water project cost and details.

The Cure

Reschedule the 9 monthly meetings in upcoming months immediately in the following months noticed properly to the towns people. All the contractors, USDA members that were involved originally in these meetings to attend and be available to answer question and discussion. Minutes to be take as required by law so there may be records of the meetings on file at the clerks office. Explain in detail what the money is going to be used for. Review and sign the work pay orders over again at the 9 open meetings.
Make provisions that this subterfuge not be allowed again in the future and that meetings with contractors be transparent at all time properly warned to open meeting to the public as well as allowing the towns people to discuss how the town spends taxpayer money on such projects. I have reviewed similar cases for outcome. I found the ruling most often given by a judge would be to rescind all the signed contracts and do all the meetings over at proper open meetings. I will point out specific case law references to the judge at trial should we get that far.

1623. Signing orders

(a) The selectboard may do either of the following:
(1) Authorize one or more members of the board to examine and allow claims against the town for town expenses and draw orders for such claims to the party entitled to payment.
Steve Barrup Selectboard Chair was not authorized to sign pay documents and other decisions and plans.
He was not delegated to represent the board at an open meeting voted by the other two selectmen.
(Cite as: 1 V.S.A. § 312)
§ 312. Right to attend meetings of public agencies
(a)(1) All meetings of a public body are declared to be open to the public at all times, except as provided in section 313 of this title. No resolution, rule, regulation, appointment, or formal action shall be considered binding except as taken or made at such open meeting, except as provided under subdivision 313(a)(2) of this title.

There were 8 or 9 monthly Water Meetings meetings dated 12/16 -2017 – 10/4/2018 in which there were “review, Pay Estimates” at each meeting in various amounts signed by Steve Barrup who was, according to open meeting law an unauthorized agent. These meetings were unannounced, no minutes taken, despite payments signed by all parties that were present at the meetings.

The statues and more details

Signing Orders – 1623
(A) Orders shall state definitely the purpose for which each is drawn and shall serve as full authority to the treasurer to make the payments.

(B) The select board shall be provided with a record of orders drawn under this subdivision (1) whenever orders are signed by less than a majority of the board.

(2) Submit to the town treasurer a certified copy of those portions of the select board minutes, properly signed by the clerk and chair or by a majority of the board, showing to whom and for what purpose each payment is to be made by the treasurer. The certified copy of the minutes shall serve as full authority to the treasurer to make the approved payments.

They did not state “definitely the purpose of which the payments would be for. 1623 (A) below
The select board was not provided with a “record of orders drawn” 1623 (B ) below
“No certified copy of orders” ever created for the select board according to the town clerk in an email dated Dec 12, 2018 –
“a certified copy of those portions of the select board minutes, properly signed by the clerk and chair or by a majority of the board” 1623 (2 )

Email from the Town Clerk Physical Evidence

Date: Wed, Dec 12, 2018 6:45 am
To: info@townnewport.com From Denise Daigle Town Clerk
“I do not have the minutes for the water meetings as these were not meetings i needed to keep minutes on. Our engineers, Aldrich and Elliott would have those. Also I did not give Rick and Jerry any updates on these meetings so I cannot provide what I don’t have”.

None of these meetings were noticed. Minutes were not taken VSA 312. THe Town Clerks argument is these meeting were not meetings because there was a quorum was not present.
I argue the Town Clerk’s statement “meetings that were not meetings” (aforementioned quote from Town Clerk). The meetings were scheduled for specific times, monthly. Parties from three or more agencies showed to discuss plans , review – Pay, Estimates. all signed at the the meetings by Steve Barrup and the contractors that were present. The meetings were held at the Towns Clerk’s office. In addition Elliot /Aldridge Engineers on the project took their own minutes at these meetings of which I obtained copies of to verify information above.

Currently at this stage of the municipal water system project, the water meter billing and reporting is being discussed, according to Steve Barrup. I personally have asked for up dates on this as well as other resident water users. Once again the people are not getting any information and not sure if there are any other unannounced undocumented meetings and what plans are being implemented or have already been. Denying the public transparency on this project appears to be an agenda of the body. The water users are anxious for updates and many are in hope of getting relief from the 100% increase of the water bill of Nov 2015 of which once again there was no accountability of why the increase came about.

This despite numerous meetings where arguments occurred when the towns people tried to get answers during the last 3 years on record (video recordings). According to the USDA and the engineers the water bill will be reduced if the users are conservative in usage with the active water meters. No time table is available when billing will become active. Steve Barrup quoted at a recorded meeting that the meters may be monitored for 2 years before the new billing goes into effect and Barrup also quoted as saying “it would be in the best interest”. Certainly not in the best interest of the people who to date are still paying a inflated water bill. I personally asked Barrup for more information on this and he replied simply, “It can be discussed”.
The body has no right to deny the town transparency. The people have the right to know everything that happens in the town with very few exceptions. Our Constitutional right as well as VSA 311 “accountable at all times”.

Not only are the present residents effected by these alleged OML violations but the future generations as well who will inheret the results of this water crisis for as long as they live in this town. There are no records. No minutes taken. The future leaders depend on the transparency from our present leaders to learn how to manage the town themselves in the future. The current leaders in my opinion self serving by this lack of transparency to gain more control over the people. Not to mention it is the law of which the body has proven to take lightly. This most evident by that denials NO WRONG DOING voted unanimously by the select board on numerous previous allegations of non compliance at formal recorded complaints at special meetings.

Voting:
Two out of three selectmen did not attend any of the 9 water project meetings in 2018.
They were not provided with a “record of orders drawn” (Signing Orders – 1623) as stated by the town clerk in email above dated Wed, Dec 12, 2018 6:45 am.
When the new water billing policy is drawn up in the near future, the select board will need to vote on the policy. How can we expect the two selectmen to vote in the best interest of the municipal water users considering they did not attend any of the 9 meetings of discussion,plans, details, orders signed?
The towns water users are experiencing a subterfuge and tightly-kept secret on how the select board chooses to spend taxpayer money on a million dollar water project. In this case where two of three selectmen evade the the vital meetings of the municipal water project and will be soon voting on a new billing policy uninformed of the details. This could be deemed In my opinion” suspicious”, the reason they would deny access of transparency to the residents on this vital issue of a public water supply.
Barry Sahagian