Smith: Darkness in Vermont during Sunshine Week

By Todd Smith | The Caledonian Record

It’s “Sunshine Week” — a nationwide effort to promote transparency and open government. As columnist Bill Knight said, “Without open government, there’s no democracy. Without transparency, there’s no accountability.”

Todd Smith

Todd M. Smith is the publisher of the Caledonian Record.

Vermont’s Public Records Law empowers residents to be part of a system of checks and balances, and to verify that government agents use their vast authority in appropriate ways. The law states, in part:

Officers of government are trustees and servants of the people and it is in the public interest to enable any person to review and criticize their decisions even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment.

It’s in keeping with Article 6 of the Vermont Constitution:

“That all power being originally inherent in and consequently derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.”

Despite these statutory commitments, Vermont remains notoriously secret, boasting over 260 exemptions to our open record law. Worse, an Associated Press report explained that over 200 of those exemptions were inserted into law by executive fiat — totally outside any legislative process for oversight by congressional operations committees.

When grading transparency and accountability, the non-profit think-tank Center for Public Integrity most recently gave Vermont an overall grade of “F” on Public Access to Information, Executive Accountability, Legislative Accountability, Judicial Accountability, State Civil Service Management, and Ethics Enforcement. Vermont gets a “D-” for State Pension Fund Management and Electoral Oversight; and a “C-” for Lobbying Disclosure, Internal Auditing, and Procurement.

Earlier this year the Vermont ACLU joined the Vermont Press Association in a call for broad reforms to strengthen the state’s notoriously weak Public Records Act.

The groups collectively seek legislative reforms to counter “alarming trend of state government secrecy, recurring denials of public access to information.”

The effort “comes in response to growing concerns … that Vermont state agencies too often deny valid requests for public records, undermining a key mechanism for government accountability and transparency.”

They cite the long and growing list of exemptions that “agencies routinely invoke to justify withholding public records; long delays in production of records to requesters; inconsistent and exorbitant processing and copying fees; and routine, improper denials by Vermont agencies to legitimate records requests. Oftentimes, the only recourse for someone whose request is denied is to file a lawsuit, and numerous courts have ruled against Vermont agencies for violating the state’s public records law.

“Examples include the case of a journalist who was denied access to data about bullying and harassment in Vermont schools, the Vermont Journalism Trust’s extended legal battle with the State over production and redaction of EB-5-related documents, and the City of Burlington’s refusal to release to Seven Days records related to the sale of Burlington Telecom — all resulting in litigation.”

We could add two dozen more examples.

The bottom line is that Vermont citizens have very few legal tools to hold their government to account. That is an assault on openness and freedom and leads often to stories of corruption, fraud, abuse and embezzlement in the Green Mountains.

Sunshine, meanwhile, is as important in moral and political spaces as it is in nature. It shines light under stones where political bottom feeders try to hide. And it’s the best defense of a free society against the instinctive urge of power brokers to shroud and obscure.

Sunshine week is a reminder to those folks – the elected officials and their bureaucrats — that we, the people are in charge. The information belongs to us.

Todd M. Smith is the publisher of the Caledonian Record, where this editorial first appeared. He lives in St. Johnsbury.

Images courtesy of Public domain and Todd Smith
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8 thoughts on “Smith: Darkness in Vermont during Sunshine Week

  1. Schools , what can you say ?? What I keep hearing is ” It’s For The Kids ” what a crock !!

    The Public school system is over staffed with over paid teachers, class sizes are down as
    are the test grades ?? sound like big government , it’s the same liberal mind set that is
    destroying the country ………we are entitled !!

    Every teacher gets a automatic step raise every year along with a contract guaranteed raise
    ( 5% – 7% ) and stll complain, pretty shameful when you look at the test scores !!

    Besides only working 180 days a year and then complain they need more prep time while
    they take time off during work hours for an agenda, it’s Ok to protest but what’s wrong with
    after hours or before school starts ( Money Wasted )

    The protestors included all Teachers, Principals, Superintendents for there liberal agenda
    pretty sad …………..I guess it’s easier to protest, then teach !!

    The average tax payer is working 250 -280 days a year and probable haven’t seen a raise
    in years, maybe this year but don’t hold your breath !!

    And if they would take time off to protest, there wages would have been docked .

  2. In regards to “Article 6 of the Vermont Constitution:” the influx of Flatlanders and their mentality they desire to be serfs, totally zombiefied, can’t comprehend what they read (if they read) and depend on the Gov. So the elected (caring?) jerks that get voted to power take advantage of the people. What can you expect? They are a product of their environment and unfortunately, take the smaller individuals with them. Little hope. VT is the CA of the east. Taxumont.

    This seems to follow the pattern exhibited by Geo. Soros and the New World Order. You can see it in the Fed Gov as well, the Lib Socalists. Can’t explain it any other way. Makes no sense to common sense.

  3. The locals just voted down a $12.5 million dollar school budget for 3 schools. I have no clue how many children are in the schools or the actual spending per pupil because the only figure they might release is the Fake spending per equalized pupil. Somehow the uninformed voters decided voting against the budget was a good idea after being told to by somebody in the media. Prior to act 46 there was 3 school boards and 3 budgets. What they spent in prior years compared to the proposed combined 3 school budget is unknown.

    What is the point of voting against school budgets when they will come back asking for almost the same amount and have another vote and keep voting until they get what they want ?

    It was reported 696 non-profits received $200 million of state funding. The state is funding how many jobs that are basically out sourced government employment with no accountability ?

    We live in a monkey see, monkey do society where if everyone else is doing it people think it’s the right thing to do and follow the leader as good team players. Tons of useful idiots in way over their heads become nothing more than rubber stamps going with the flow.

    The democrats just took back the NJ Governors office and rolled out tons of bills to raise taxes. Vermont has the same system of tax & spend so will follow the lead of NJ & other states. One day it will catch up to Vermont just like it’s doing in NJ, CT and other places with multi Billion Dollar budget deficits. Vermont will cling to the status quo and end up just like those places because it’s doing the exact same thing which isn’t surprising when VT government is loaded with flatlanders.

    Another house went on the market. $300,000 and the town tax department thinks it’s worth $550,000. It’s another example of how financially illiterate American society is. A nation of Ross Perot’s doesn’t apply here in Bankrupt Food Stamp Nation run by people without a clue because they lack the ability to see the big picture, it’s way over their heads.

    Emotional basket cases letting irrational feelings set the agenda while ignoring the Math involved is going to fail because it fails to add up. For every action there is an equal an opposite reaction even if some simpleton claims it’s a win, win situation the math won’t add up.

    NJ’s $8 Billion dollar deficit is larger than all of Vermont’s spending. It’s not a pot hole that needs to be filled, it’s the Grand Canyon of deficits. What kind of mentality makes suck a mess ? The end result of tons of spoiled people born on third base being useful idiots rubber stamping everything special interest groups want and no ADULTS saying NO.

    The funny part is the young people are rising up to take on the status quo and it took dozens of them getting slaughtered at schools to get their attention and now they are awake and seeing the child like adults in charge of everything have to be replaced by actual grown ups. Goodbye ME Generation, your decades of pillaging & plundering The People of America is about to end and probably a 1929 style splat because The MATH is going to fail.

    • The re-voting :What is the point of voting against school budgets when they will come back asking for almost the same amount and have another vote and keep voting until they get what they want ?” is called “reconsideration”. In Townshend, they kept reconsidering each month until they (local school) got what they wanted. Then they shut up, gleefully.

      Yup, democracy in action. The “ed system” loads up the town meetings and get a huge share of the local grand list and set property taxation values. The voting is done mostly by voice, who yells the loudest, gets their way. In Townshend’s meetings, teaches bring their kids and of course they all yell for their vote. Yup, democracy in action.

      The ratio of incomes teachers vs resident is way out of balance. Teachers expect the lower class pay the “educators” . Yup, “it’s for the children”.

      Reconsideration should have a six month time period from the last vote to reconsider again. Then the taxpayer can take the time to vote and not get worn down spending so much time away from work or family.

      • Tom, I’m 20 miles north of you and found out the 2 high schools near me have lost 40% of the student population over the last 20 years. Assuming it’s about average here in southern Vermont tons of schools could be closed. That is out of the voters hands and everyone defends their school.

        It will take the voters as a collective in the state to demand the end of local schools and change to county schools paid for by people in the county which is what Thomas Jefferson proposed about 200 years ago.

        If a few counties are underprivileged and lack a tax base merge them with another county.

        FREE Money from other people is easy to spend & waste.

        The spoiled ME Generation lacks problem solving skills and is some how going to educate the children ? If the kids want to learn how to be another generation of screw ups they just need to pay attention to their elders who will show them how to screw up big time.

        https://www.vox.com/2017/12/20/16772670/baby-boomers-millennials-congress-debt

        Some of the boomers had lots of help from people too old to be boomers like Pelosi, McCain and many others of the Silent Generation that is now in their mid 70’s or older.

        Our post WW2 Culture is in critical condition and the old people who cheered on stupid stuff for decades are now in the defense mode or denial mode as they cling to the stupidity right to the end. New flash, it isn’t working and never did work. We didn’t start a war on poverty in 1965 because the post WW2 Culture was successful. If unions where so great why did we start a war on poverty ?

        If education is the answer when are the positive results going to show up here in druggie nation ? The ME Generation is nothing but a bunch of con artists and swindlers.

        Growth ? The population has more than doubled since the 1950’s. When are the benefits of GROWTH going to show up ? FREE Trade another ME Generation fantasy turned the country into Food Stamp Nation.

        Vermont spends $2 billion on education and over 50% is wasted. It takes a special king of stupid to waste over $1 billion year after year and be too stupid to stop doing it.

    • “The democrats just took back the NJ Governors office and rolled out tons of bills to raise taxes. ”

      You can be sure that the next Demorcrat, or when Zuckerman is elected you”re all going to be in for HUGE tax increases.

      You can count on it, be proactive.

  4. Is anyone really surprised??? Th lib/progressives do what they darned well please and Vermonters suffer the consequences.

  5. Todd,

    I’d like to know more about this topic. Thanks for trying to shed some sunshine into this darkness. Help keep us informed. Thanks.

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