Vermont law requires municipalities to publish an annual report. From the Rutland city charter, which is codified in state law:
The City report shall be published annually, on or before the 15th day of November each year, by the direction of the Mayor. It shall contain a clear statement of the financial affairs of the City, including a record of all expenditures, receipts, and disbursements of the City moneys, and the name and amount of compensation for services from the City of every person receiving compensation by way of salary or otherwise in amount of $300 or more a year.
Okay, fine. Cities are required to publish information about their operations. No one is required to actually read the things, but still, it’s good fundamental public policy.
But in Rutland, they didn’t do it. The Killington-based Mountain Times:
The Rutland city report, a comprehensive summary of all financial affairs of the city and city employee salaries for the current fiscal year, was not distributed this year prior to town meeting in March when voters vote on exactly that – the finances of the city and city schools.
… Rutland City Clerk Henry Heck, in emails dating back to March and April, said the city report was not produced because of a problem with a printing company and acquiring a printing company to make the correct size of report. There was not a local company that could do it, Heck said at the time.
So, state law mandates an annual report no later than November 15. There was no report as of Town Meeting Day in March. There still isn’t one.
And it’s because of a printing problem? Seriously? Six months, you can’t find a printer?
After the jump: lame excuses, lots of questions, and conspicuous silence from one Wendy Wilton, champion of accountability.
The Times made a public records request on April 16 for “any email correspondence, written correspondence, contracts and/or bids related to the FY13 City Report.” Y’know, to verify the claim about a six-month-long printer problem. Six weeks later, no response from the city.
The initial Mountain Times article was published on May 28. A follow-up, posted on June 5, reported that…
Some, but not all, of the Rutland city report detailing financial information for the 2012/2013 fiscal year is now posted at www.rutlandcity.org – six months after it was legally due.
The report, absent the fire, police and mayoral annual summaries, is published online. There is no indication it will be printed in hard copy and sent to Rutland residents as in years past.
The Times hasn’t been able to get a comment from Republican Mayor Chris Louras, but he reportedly told the Rutland Herald that the delay “primarily had to do with a printing issue and a lack of manpower in the mayor’s office.” (I can’t confirm that, because I don’t have access to the Herald’s paywalled website.)
Yeah, well, Mr. Mayor, it’s not a suggestion — it’s the frickin’ law.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to enforce the law. Deputy Secretary of State Brian Leven told the Times that “There is no process for reporting the apparent violation because neither our office nor the Attorney General’s has any authority to enforce a provision of a municipal charter.” The only recourse is for a citizen to file a lawsuit against the city — a suit the city would surely lose.
In this age of online “publishing,” one could argue it’s wasteful to publish a paper version of the city report. Fine. But the answer is to change the law, not ignore it.
A number of questions come to mind.
— Republicans like to talk about accountability and transparency, and often knock the Democrats for alleged lack of same. Well, Rutland’s a Republican town. Hypocrisy much?
— No one is laying any blame at the feet of City Treasurer Wendy Wilton. But her silence is, to say the least, interesting. When she ran for State Treasurer in 2012, she promised to provide:
*Strong, Independent fiscal leadership; checks and balances
*Improvements in Vermont’s financial transparency scores
*Support for state & local government on reporting and accountability issues
*Greater communication with lawmakers and the public about VT’s finances
That’s from the homepage of her still-extant campaign website. Funny, I haven’t heard any outrage from her about Rutland’s lack of leadership or financial transparency or accountability or communication with the public.
— How do you write a requirement into state law without including an enforcement mechanism?
— Why doesn’t anybody in Rutland care enough to file a lawsuit? I’d think a local Democrat would do it, just to embarrass the city government.
— The second-biggest city in Vermont is openly flouting the law. Why hasn’t this been a bigger story?
You may have questions of your own, but that’s a good start. Seems to me, this ought be a big deal.