As Town Counsel Elizabeth A. Lane of the law firm of Kopelman and Paige was delineating to the Town Council the numerous changes in the Open Meeting Law that will go into effect on July 1, Town Clerk Carla Vitale could be seen taking notes and listening very intently to the presentation.
Vitaleâ€™s responsibilities as Town Clerk are expanding to a large degree. For starters, the town will have to post all meetings at a site that is visible to residents on a 24-hour basis. However, the townâ€™s web site wonâ€™t satisfy that requirement. While meetings are regularly posted outside the townâ€™s clerkâ€™s office, the list now will have to appear in a location that can be seen at all hours of the day (such as the window on the front door of Town Hall).
In addition, the minutes from all executive sessions must contain more detailed information. In addition to the date, place, time, and matters discussed, they must include summaries of matters discussed, a list of documents used, and all decisions made and actions taken, including a record of all votes.
If thatâ€™s not enough, Vitale must include all exhibits, photographs, recordings or maps used at both open and executive sessions in the minutes from the meeting.
The Town Clerk also will have to monitor whether five or more councillors attend a subcommittee meeting, or any other meeting, and whether they act together on a issue, because that would constitute a quorum which requires the posting of the meeting as well as all of the other requirements of the Open Meeting Law, including the new ones noted above.
And finally, the Town Council must be careful not to deliberate on issues anywhere but at an actual meeting. This means that exchanging emails on an issue now is prohibited.
With the other changes in the Open Meeting Law (for example, the Attorney General will be the enforcement authority for violations and district attorneys no longer will be involved), it might be a wise decision to appoint Vitale as the official â€œparliamentarianâ€ for Council meetings.
Perhaps Town Council President Jeffrey Turco wasnâ€™t joking when he asked Mrs. Vitale whether she still wanted to be the Town Clerk with all the additional responsibilities now being added to her position. The Council should take a look at whether there is a need for additional staff members in the Town Clerkâ€™s office or whether to add a stipend to Mrs. Vitaleâ€™s salary.