of Censors: An idea whose time has
Ten of us sat around a table at Goddard College in May of 2009, surrounded by chart paper upon which we had written our ideas which we felt should be a part of for Vermont’s future governing structures. We were Dreaming Vermont’s Destiny, (coincidentally the title of the retreat that brought us together) and recognizing that some of the present laws that govern Vermont were not in keeping with the high ideals of The Vermont Constitution. It was Gary Flomenhoft who remembered the now abolished section of the original Vermont Constitution of 1777, Section 43, which called for the creation of a Council of Censors, whose duties it would be to determine, “whether the legislative and executive branches of government have performed their duty as guardians of the people; or assumed to themselves, or exercised, other or greater powers, than they are entitled to by the constitution. They are also to enquire whether the public taxes have been justly laid and collected, in all parts of this Commonwealth- in what manner the public monies have been disposed of, and whether the laws have been duly executed.” In 1786, they the Council gained the additional mandate, “to enquire whether the constitution has been preserved inviolate, in every part.”
They were to be convened every 7 years for a period of one year. In order to accomplish these its functions, the Council was given certain powers: “to send for persons, papers and records; they shall have authority to pass public censures- to order impeachments, and to recommend to the legislature the repealing such laws as appear to them to have been enacted contrary to the principles of the constitution.” Further, the Council had the power “the said Council of Censors shall have the power to call a Convention, that would and “to meet within two years after their sitting, if there appears to them an absolute necessity of amending any article of this constitution which may be defective-explaining such as may be thought not clearly expressed, and of adding such as are necessary for the preservation of the rights and happiness of the people…”
We lamented the fact that the Council was abolished in 1870 and thus, the Council’s work had gone undone for 140 years. With a little quick math, we realized that were the Council of Censors to have continued, the 13 members of the 33rd septenary would be due to convene in 2009, “on the first Wednesday of June”. We decided that day, that the Council of Censors had much to do and that we would reconstitute that body to do the necessary work. Rather than being “elected by statewide election” as were the original Censors, we would be “self-selected”. A core group formed that day with plans to recruit others to round out the body to 13 members.
With members across the state with families and busy schedules, we took advantage of modern technology to convene as called for on June 4th via email. A slate of questions was drawn up to decide how we would operate. We elected Rick Scharf of Duxbury to be the Chair. We decided that we would seek consensus but would rely on majority vote (2/3 majority if calling
a Convention) as did the first 13 Councils. We voted to include only current Vermont residents as Censors and that in addition to transgressions of Vermont’s Constitution by the State’s legislative and executive branches, we would also be investigating
transgressions by the Federal government. Finally, we decided to add the word “provisional” to our name, to be clear that we are not statewide elected as were past Councils. And with that, the 14th Provisional Council of Censors was born.
The Our first face-to-face meeting of the 14th Provisional Council of Censors took place on October 3rd in Montpelier with 7 Censors attending. At this meeting it was decided that, like past Councils, we would present a written Address- possibly to be
issued incrementally. While the Council of Censors has traditionally had much to say to the legislature (and it was clear that the legislature was listening), they directed their Address “To the Freemen of the State of Vermont”. We wished to operate in the public eye and have kept & maintained minutes of our meetings. We endeavored to create a repeatable process which could guide a 15th Council of Censors. Due to the fact that we would be doing 140 years worth of work, we relieved ourselves of the 1 year time limit that past Councils have operated under and recognized that it would likely take us a bit longer to accomplish our tasks to our satisfaction. We hope at this point to complete our work by the end of 2010.
A list of possible Constitutional violations were compiled and we began to form committees based on the interest and expertise of the Censors. Committees currently exist to investigate:
• Federal Deployment of Vermont’s National Guard troops
• “ Corporate Personhood ”
• State Tax Collection and use of Public Monies
• Enclosure of the Commons
• The Relationship between Federal and State Authority with specific regards to education and nuclear power
• The Relationship between State and Local Authority
• Vermont’s Constitutional amendment process
• The keeping of Standing Armies
• Participatory Democracy
We acknowledge that there are more potential Constitutional violations than we have the time and energy to investigate, and we welcome the involvement of others willing to assist us.
Membership in the Council has fluctuated as Censors have needed to step down due to other commitments, moving out of state, or to pursue a seat in the Senate. Others have heard our call, stepped up, and as of this writing, we currently have 11 members. They Are...
William Brueckner (Waterbury Center) Rick Foley (Brattleboro) Gary Flomenhoft (Burlington) Marion Hendrix (Milton)
Gus Jaccaci (Thetford) Peter Moss (Fairfax) Hans Ohanian (Charlotte) Susan Ohanian (Charlotte) Lynn Rosenblum (Thetford) Rick Scharf (Duxbury) Abigail Winters (Randolph Center) Robert Wagner
We expect to be forthcoming with the first portion of our Address in time for the next issue of Vermont Commons. In the meantime, keep abreast of our activities via our website, VermontCouncilOfCensors.org If you have questions and comments or would like to become involved with our work, Contact Us
of Censors: An idea whose time has