MONTPELIER — Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin told the Vermont Press Association that he remains committed to his campaign pledge to have more transparency in Vermont state government and hopes that a new Open Meeting law will be approved in the next legislative session.
Shumlin, who successfully campaigned for his first term on an open government platform, said Thursday he sees a revised Vermont Open Meeting law as the second major step in his commitment to more open government. He said several pressing issues, including the recovery of Tropical Storm Irene, prevented the Legislature from giving final approval to a new Open Meeting law this year.
Speaking during the association’s sold-out annual awards luncheon at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier, the governor said he favors an Open Meeting law requiring agendas being available to the public at least 72 hours before a meeting.
Shumlin said he also thinks requiring boards and commissions to keep minutes of executive session meetings is a good idea. He said he also favors a provision — in place in some states — that executive session minutes would become public after the reason for the closed-door meeting had passed or was resolved.
Shumlin said the first major step in his efforts for improved transparency came a year ago with the new Vermont Public Records law that provides for greater citizen access to government. The law, which includes a provision for mandatory legal fees when government improperly withholds documents, has been a success, the governor said. Vermont judges had routinely balked at ordering state and local governments that illegally withheld records to pay for private lawyers that private citizens were forced to hire to enforce state public records laws. Shumlin had maintained that leaving it up to a judge’s discretion had not worked and he advocated moving to mandatory legal fees to get better compliance.
Also during the day-long VPA meeting, Vermont Administrative Judge Amy Davenport and state Chief Court Administrator Robert Greemore discussed current issues and future plans in the state court system.
A separate panel of veteran journalists, moderated by Addison Independent senior reporter John Flowers, discussed the status and future of newspapers in Vermont. Tom Kearney of the Stowe Reporter and Ross Connelly of the Hardwick Gazette, both recent inductees into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame, and Mike Donoghue of the Burlington Free Press, a long-standing member of the Hall of Fame, discussed best practices and innovation in the industry.
VPA President Maria Archangelo of the Stowe Reporter and Waterbury Record also announced that H. Allen Gilbert, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, was selected as the winner of the Matthew Lyon Award for his efforts for the First Amendment and open government. Gilbert is a former Vermont journalist who also served for nearly 20 years on local and union school boards.
The day concluded with awards presented to the top journalists in Vermont. The annual competition, open to the 10 daily newspapers and over four dozen non-daily newspapers that circulate in the state, judged stories and photos published between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011. The New England Newspaper and Press Association in Boston helped secure the out-of-state judges.
ADDY INDY HONORED
Judged in the non-daily category, the Addison Independent claimed nine awards, including first place for Outstanding Website. Independent web editor Andrea Suozzo accepted the award for addisonindependent.com.
Two Independent stalwarts, senior reporter John Flowers and photographer Trent Campbell, both hauled in multiple awards, including a first-place for each.
Flowers earned the gold in the Best Local Story category for “Getting Railroaded?”, a story about Middlebury residents upset at a proposed extension of a railroad line through their neighborhood to the Omya quarry. Flowers also got 3rd place in the Best State Story category for his two-story package on Death with Dignity legislation, and Honorable Mention in Feature Writing for a story on a Civil War love story.
Campbell won first place in the Feature Photo category, where he entered shots of a worker cleaning out the inside of a wine tank at Lincoln Peak Winery, a photo of a child reacting to a Tom Verner magic trick, and a shot of a very little girl with a tennis racket standing with an adult with a very big pair of feet. Campbell earned second place in the General News Photo competition, where he submitted photos of Kathleen Hescock leading a pig on a leash, MUHS seniors in a Lake Dunmore raft race, and boys silhouetted against a barn door open to the sky.
Accolades also went to veteran Addison Independent sports reporter Andy Kirkaldy, who placed second in the Best Sports Writing category; intern George Altshuler, third-place in Best Local Story for a series on young adults in Addison County; and reporter Andrew Stein, who earned an Honorable Mention in the Sports Photo category for a shot of a kayaker going over Bartlett Falls in Bristol.