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Attorney reminds official about Open Meetings

Board failed to decide during public meeting

LYNDON – The village acknowledges that its board of trustees made a decision outside of a public meeting. 

Under state law, the board can take action only at a properly advertised open meeting. 

Last month, the village responded to a complaint that resident Tracy Shaffer had filed with the attorney general’s office.

At the June 10 meeting of the Lyndon board of trustees, members were asked to approve payment of village bills. Trustee Les Williams questioned a $2,650 bill from Ballard’s Tree Trimming. Williams said the trustees had agreed to cut down only one tree that was split.

However, at the meeting, Village President Tim Crady told the board that he had called three of the six trustees and they agreed to have the work done. He said he did so because the company offered the village “a really good deal.”

In a letter to the attorney general, Tim Zollinger, the village’s attorney, said he discussed the issue with Crady.

“I ... reminded him of the obligations under the Open Meetings Act to refrain from contacting trustees developing consensus outside of a meeting properly called under the Open Meetings,” Zollinger wrote.

At the same time, Zollinger said the board didn’t approve the expense until the June 10 meeting. If the bill had been previously voted upon, he said, it wouldn’t appear on the June list.

In his response to the complaint, Zollinger noted that Shaffer is the wife of Will Shaffer, who has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the village.

Tracy Shaffer questioned whether the board followed proper procedure in holding a closed session during the meeting.

Zollinger responded that the board followed the law, saying that it cited the personnel and litigation exemptions under the Open Meetings Act. The meeting was limited to Will Shaffer’s lawsuit and a specific employee who believed he was being harassed by Shaffer.

The village president has struggled with the Open Meetings Act before. 

Last year, he admitted to “dropping the ball” by having a board vote behind closed doors. To correct the mistake, he called a special meeting to revote the issue, which was the firing of an employee, Will Shaffer.

A minority of board members criticized the decision, saying Crady hadn’t provided documentation on the reasons for Shaffer’s termination. Then-Trustee Lyle Armstrong said Shaffer, who is black, had been the victim of discrimination. 

In his lawsuit, Shaffer said he had been discriminated against because he was black. Many times, he said, employees and even the former village clerk called him the N-word. He also contended that he had not been paid the same wage and benefits that “similarly situated” white employees received.

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