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Town appoints Custodian of Records

VERNON—At the recommendation of Windham County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Chris Norton, the Selectboard appointed Board Chair Christiane Howe as Custodian of Records at the Aug. 17 regular meeting.

Norton told the Board that the Sheriff’s Department has “three, maybe four boxes” of Vernon-related records, and the town should keep them, not his department.

He told the town officials these are non-criminal-related records — things like accident reports and personnel records — and involve “incidents going back 10, 15, 20 years."

Norton assured the Selectboard that the Sheriff’s Department is the custodian of records relating to criminal cases. He also suggested the board work with the town attorney and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to formulate a policy to decide who has access to which records.

North also informed the Selectboard that it needed to do some work on its municipal ordinances.

The town is not alone in that, Norton assured them. “I have never been anywhere where municipal ordinances were easy."

The two main issues, according to Norton, involve keeping clear records of which officials in town are empowered to enforce civil violations, and ensuring municipal ordinances address civil — not criminal — offenses.

Norton told the Selectboard that the state Judicial Bureau requires “anybody who can enforce violations,” such as a fire marshal, police chief, or animal control officer, to fill out a form with the bureau.

The bureau also requires the town to designate a contact person, Norton said. “It can be anybody,” he told the board, but it is best to choose someone who is consistently on duty.

Designating “the Selectboard” is possible, he said, but he suggested town officials check with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to make sure.

Regarding the town’s municipal ordinances, Norton informed board members “State’s Attorneys don’t like [to enforce] municipal ordinances.” He said in his experience, the State’s Attorneys generally prefer to adjudicate alcohol-related offenses, but he suggested town officials contact their office to find out which ordinances they will cover.

In answer to questions from board members, Norton explained the difference between civil and criminal offenses, and how ordinances can be worded to place them in the correct category.

He said civil charges result in the offender receiving a ticket and a fine, and the wording in the ordinance should say, “enforceable through the Judicial Bureau,” while a criminal offense leads to an arrest or citation.

Norton said the Vermont League of Cities and Towns could help the Selectboard with this item, as well, and reminded members “they can send someone down [to Vernon] for trainings.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #321 (Wednesday, September 2, 2015). This story appeared on page C1.

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