Another closed door in the People’s House

Constant readers of this blog (Hi, Mom!) will recall that earlier this month, I wrote a letter to the House Ethics Panel asking for a review of Rep. Adam Greshin’s actions regarding H.40, the RESET bill. For less constant readers, my complaint centered on this: Greshin authored an amendment to H.40 stripping away an increase in funding for Efficiency Vermont. (EV had already gotten Public Service Board approval; until this year, legislative review was a mere formality.) He also aggressively lobbied the House and Senate for his amendment.

EV gets its money through a surcharge on utility bills. As co-owner of the Sugarbush Resort, a voracious consumer of electricity ($2 million/year), Greshin stood to gain considerably if his amendment passed.

Well, the Ethics Panel has responded. And as expected, it was a whitewash. Greshin, so they say, did nothing wrong.

I’ll get to the substance of its decision in my next post. First, though, I need to address the process.

Between sending my letter and receiving the Panel’s reply, I didn’t hear anything about it. During the roughly one week between receiving my letter and drafting its ruling, the Panel conducted a review with help from Legislative Counsel. It also met with the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and with Greshin himself. (Correction: The panel met with counsel to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but not with the Committee itself.)

None of those meetings were noticed publicly. I was not informed. I was not given the opportunity to be a party to the proceedings.

It seems that the House Ethics Panel has a closed-door policy.

I find that ironic, don’t you? In a group devoted to maintaining ethical standards, there is no transparency whatsoever.

There seems to be a lot of this going on at the Statehouse. Most famously, Seven Days’ Paul Heintz and WCAX’s Kyle Midura were physically prevented from attending a meeting of the full Senate Natural Resources Committee in President Pro Tem John Campbell’s office. And shortly after the session adjourned, we found out that the Senate Rules Committee does its business out of public view, at least some of the time. And we had previously learned that the Senate’s Committee on Committees does all its business behind closed doors.

House and Senate leaders, with the support of their tame lawyers, seem capable of finding reasons to shut out the public and the media when it suits their interests.

Isn’t it about time that the Legislature subjects itself to the same Open Meetings Law it has seen fit to impose on other government bodies?

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