Town of Stamford will consult lawyer on dispute with attorney general over state of emergency status

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FREE FROM COVID CONTROLLERS?: The town of Stamford, Vermont, is one of the few communities in the U.S. to use municipal powers to opt out of state coronavirus regulations.

Stamford, Vermont, made national headlines after it voted to opt out of Vermont’s state of emergency and allow its citizens to go back to living normal life again. Now the Selectboard is consulting with its lawyer on how to respond to Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan, who claims the town doesn’t have the authority to assert autonomy.

The Dec. 30 letter from the attorney general makes the argument that the town can only opt out of a state emergency for a natural disaster, but not for a virus.

Michael Denault, a member of the Stamford Selectboard, says the orders from the state violate his constitutional rights.

“We all respect each other, but I can tell you my strong opinion is that no matter what our differences of opinion are, upholding the Constitution of Vermont and the United States [is essential], and whenever I feel that’s not being held I’m going to say something,” he said at the Jan. 7 board meeting. “If the government of Vermont threatens us by financially or whatever … that still does not give us the right not to uphold the Constitution.”

Denault said the town would be talking with Walden-based lawyer Deborah Bucknam on how to respond to Donovan’s letter. Bucknam, who also is vice chair of Vermont’s Republican Party, published a commentary in December that argued Title 20, Section 13 of Vermont law allows towns to terminate a state of emergency order.

For now, the town is following the governor’s state of emergency order, even though it voted to opt out during the final week of December. Denault acknowledged that the town government is in uncharted waters.

“This is new, we’ve never seen this before,” he said. “So we’re doing our best and hopefully we are upholding the Constitution.”

Denault also said in the meeting that several other Vermont towns have reached out to potentially join in this push back against the state.

Since summer of 2020, Vermont has ordered strict mask and distancing policies for all public places, as well as capacity limits and other restrictions on different industries. Vermont has had 158 deaths associated with the coronavirus.

Denault said that not all of the information on the coronavirus matches what’s being described by the state.

“I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist, but I have read other articles in contradiction to the things [on wearing masks] that were mentioned in the past meetings about masks,” he said.

Not everyone present at the meeting agreed with opting out of state COVID regulations. Board member Christopher Warren opened the meeting by reading his resignation letter to the board.

“While this fight may not cost the town monetarily, as support for this comes in from other parts of the state and likely the country if things progress far enough, it has and will continue to cost our town in other ways,” he said.

Maura Hopkins who was the town’s health officer and assistant health officer for over 23 years, also argued against going against state health regulations.

“You do not have the power to use this office or this town as a microphone for your personal use,” she said to the board. “By taking this step you are violating your commitment to uphold the rules of thesState of Vermont. It is also a powerless action and an ethical failure. … The actions of those of you that voted on it is meaningless, and it’s weak, and by taking it your are violating your obligations and you disturb the needs and interest of this town.”

Local resident Laura Champagne spoke in favor of pushing back against the state.

“It’s all about the Constitution, and we’re trying to stick up for people’s rights and head off some bad things that might happen, and that’s it,” she said. ” …  I don’t even know that I want the vaccine because I’ve heard that people have had some really bad reactions.”

Champagne also called for civility.

“Having disagreement is part of business,” she said. ” … That doesn’t mean the board is dysfunctional, it brings more ideas to the table. People need to have open minds and respect each other whether in agreement or not.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Images courtesy of Public domain and Wikimedia Commons

16 thoughts on “Town of Stamford will consult lawyer on dispute with attorney general over state of emergency status

  1. To quote the Declaration of Independence:
    “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. ”

    Vermont did not exist when that document was drafted, and I see no reason why anyone should obey any further directives from Montpelier.

  2. “The Dec. 30 letter from the attorney general makes the argument that the town can only opt out of a state emergency for a natural disaster, but not for a virus.”
    So the virus is not a natural disaster. In other words, it’s a man-made disaster.
    How about somebody being held accountable for this mess? Paging Dr. Fauci

  3. Vermont Statute Section 13(3) of Title 20 provides that the governor “shall” declare the state of emergency terminated in a municipality when the “majority of the legislative body of a municipality affected no longer desires that the state of emergency continue within its jurisdiction.” The statute goes on to say that “Upon the termination of the state of emergency, the functions as set forth in section 9 of this title [the Governor’s emergency powers] shall cease, and the local authorities shall resume control.”

    The terms “shall” mean that the governor has no discretion in this matter. He must terminate the state of emergency in the municipality when the majority of the selectboard or other legislative body no longer “desires” to be under a state of emergency.

  4. Ms. Hopkins has a problem distinguishing between laws and arbitrary rules that violate our God-given rights delineated in our Constitution.

  5. If a community cannot opt out of a governor’s emergency declaration, then there is no other recourse that I have seen in the Vermont Constitution. In effect, any governor can without proof, simply declare an emergency and never relinquish the power. We must amend the State Constitution, because the emergency powers are far too broad and undefined.

  6. If people are afraid to not wear a mask, based on a orders of the ‘King’ — knowing that a mask that cannot filter particles below 3 microns, and the virus particles are smaller then 1 micron — it would seem these ‘afraid’ people have been assimilated into communism and don’t even know it.

  7. Wow! That’s really interesting. The Attorney General of Vermont has evidence that the COVID-19 did not evolve naturally in nature but was actually created in Chinese Military Weapons Lab after all? Will the trial of the town officials be broadcast to the public.

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