Alleged open meeting law violations cloud decision to close Westminster West School

Resident claims that School Board has not properly warned its meetings since July 1

WESTMINSTER WEST — The Westminster School Board's budget committee canceled its Nov. 4 meeting after receiving a six-page complaint accusing the board of violating Vermont's open meeting law.

The complaint was filed by Westminster resident and retired family court magistrate Patricia Whalen.

In the complaint, Whalen states: “It is my claim that the Budget Committee of the Westminster School Board and the Westminster School Board have both violated the open meeting law since at least July 1, 2014.”

Whalen says the board has failed to make agendas and minutes available to the public and that all meetings of the budget committee have been improperly warned.

“As a consequence,” the document claims, “all decisions, recommendations and policy discussions are null and void. Therefore, actions and or discussions reflecting recommendations and decisions of the budget committee by the School Board since July 1, 2014 must also be null and void.”

The complaint comes after the Westminster West School was removed from the committee's recommended budget.

“This decision to close the school was taken in less than 27 minutes at a budget committee meeting that was improperly warned,” Whalen said. “I just believe strongly in participatory democracy, and for me this is an issue of transparency in government. I love my town and I believe in my town. I'm quite sure residents in Westminster care about our government. They care about how decisions are made. And I can't believe this feels good to anyone.”

In addition to requesting that agendas and minutes for all board and subcommittee meetings be made available to the public, Whalen asks that a public hearing be held to debate the budget committee's recommendation to close the school.

“I've lived in this community for 30 years and the issue and cost involved in the Westminster West School have been brought up repeatedly. It's sort of like a ritual execution,” Whalen said, “and to some extent I think people are concerned if a satellite school costs the taxpayers more money. And that's fair, that should be looked at.”

Whalen said when this discussion comes up, people come to the understanding that it doesn't cost more to operate the West West satellite school.

The School Board has seven business days to respond to Whalen's complaint. “I assume they are working on this in good faith,” she said.

Board Chair Molly Banik declined to comment for this article, as did budget committee member Dan Axtell, whose quotes from a previous edition of The Commons are included in the complaint.

The School Board next meets on Nov. 18.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates