CHRIS MAYS, Brattleboro Reformer
WILMINGTON -- Zoning Administrator Alice Herrick has filed a lawsuit in what she claims is an effort to make the town more responsive to records requests.
On Nov. 4, Herrick filed an open records request with Town Manager Scott Murphy. Those documents included all records sent and received by Planning Commission members since Sept. 1, 2011. She also requested any documents related to her office’s operations, Tropical Storm Irene and any actions she has made.
While she asked to see the original documents, she was presented with copies, and not of all the documents she requested. She believes this is a violation of Vermont’s Public Records Law.
Her lawsuit asks that the town comply with the law and make the records she requested available for her inspection. In response, the town filed a motion to dismiss her complaint, contending Murphy is not the custodian of the commission’s documents.
Herrick’s complaint "... sets forth a number of violations of the Vermont Public Records Act for which she seeks redress, which are not limited only to the issue with the Planning Commission documents."
In the complaint, she wrote that Murphy only "partially" replied when she requested records and a "number of the documents requested may be housed at the town attorney’s office."
"That is part of the disagreement," said Murphy. "The town attorney wouldn’t have any records that we don’t have."
He would not comment further on who is the town’s designated custodian of record.
Vermont Deputy Secretary of State Brian Leven told the Reformer that the public records law does not dictate who handles records within a municipality.
"It would just fall under the duties of the office," he said. "It may be phrased specifically or generally, depending on the office," he said. "It may just vary from office to office or to custodian to custodian."
Herrick’s complaint also states that the town violated the act "by failing to provide the plaintiff a date and time to inspect all the records, not just the Planning Commission records," and she was not notified of any reasons all the records were not allowed to be reviewed by her.
Murphy told the Reformer that about a year and a half ago, the Selectboard passed a public records policy to meet the statute.
"So we have met that criteria in our responses," he said.
The town is still waiting to hear back on its motion to summarily dismiss the case.
"Then, there might be a follow-up on our part," said Murphy.
As of Jan. 29, Herrick did not know if her presence in court would be required.
"It would take a crystal ball to know that," she said. "I would hope it would be resolved as quickly as possible ... It’s in the court’s hands."