Home News and Features New Montpelier City Council Gets Oriented

New Montpelier City Council Gets Oriented

large granite building with tree in front and tower on top. Gray sky in background.
Montpelier City Hall. Photo by Carla Occaso

A new mayor and three mostly new city councilors spent their first city council meeting March 8 receiving an orientation from City Manager Bill Fraser.

After thanking the public and poll workers for a smooth election, and congratulating and swearing in newly elected Mayor Jack McCullough, District 2 councilors Pelin Kohn and Sal Alfano, District 3 councilor Tim Heney, and re-elected District 1 councilor Lauren Hierl, McCullough and City Manager Bill Fraser devoted the rest of the meeting to making the mechanics of the council and city government clear to council members. McCullough noted he might reconsider the strict time limit for public discussion imposed by the council. 

City council members received a handbook and resource documents from Fraser that are available to the public. Many additional documents were available in the online agenda packet and included Rules of Procedure and Ethics Policy, which were re-adopted, and Council Policies and Standards, which the council is revising. Fraser and his department heads provided a PowerPoint orientation.

Fraser detailed the role of city councilors within Montpelier’s council-manager form of governance. The city council is the legislative or governing body of the city. For example, the council may create committees. The council is responsible for the budget presented to the voters. It has a strong oversight role of city services. It oversees the manager and makes and ensures that policies and projects are being done. Fraser stated that members of the council (by) “speaking with one voice then the better we can do our jobs.” The mayor is a council member and legally could vote on every item the council votes on, but traditionally does not do so in Montpelier. According to Fraser, the mayor has no administrative authority but is viewed by the public as “the political leader of the community and a spokesman for the community.” 

The city manager is the chief administrative officer of the city. The city manager prepares the council’s agenda, but any council member or resident can add an agenda item by request. Council members get a weekly memo from Fraser and the department heads regarding issues and activities and a tentative schedule of upcoming council items. Fraser verified that the consent agenda is “meant to be items that are noncontroversial, somewhat administrative in nature. … It’s there for convenience. It’s not there to avoid anything.” He also briefly reviewed open meeting law, public readings, independent authority, the charter, and public records requests, strategic plan goals, vision and mission statements, core values, and other items.

Councilors were encouraged by McCullough to “respond promptly and respectfully to communications from the public.” However, there are guidelines for communication with constituents. Fraser advised them that electronic communication in their role is a public record and “can end up in the press, so as you think about what you’re saying just think about that.” In terms of councilors’ oversight role, Fraser acknowledged that it is a councilor’s responsibility, and “councilors may be called as an elected rep and that’s fine but generally if there is something … we need to do … it’s my duty to follow that (professional code of ethics for city manager). “And councilors have no oversight role over staff, “so technically you should communicate through the city manager … Maybe there’s a zoning amendment you don’t understand, … you may just say (to Fraser) ‘do you mind if I talk to Mike Miller about this’ and I’ll say no, of course not; just thanks for letting me know.”  

The next city council meeting is scheduled for March 22 at 6:30 p.m.