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MANAGEMENT UPDATE.

A BATTLE BETWEEN ELECTED OFFICIALS IN VERMONT

At a time when almost every impediment to smooth governance is blamed on partisanship, you might be led to believe that when elected officials are from the same party, they would work together seamlessly for the common good. 


But that’s not always the situation, as evidenced in a lawsuit filed in late November by the Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer against the same state’s Attorney General Charity Clark both of whom are democrats. 



The issue at hand is whether the AG is legally required to provide legal opinions when they’re requested. In this instance, the auditor was seeking a legal opinion about Burlington Vermont’s effort to use tax increment financing, a device described by Good Jobs First as one that “captures the increase in property taxes, and sometimes other taxes, resulting from new development, and diverts that revenue to subsidize that development.”


But the issue at hand is really not related to the specifics of the request, but rather whether or not the state’s AG is legally required to provide legal opinions to his office when they’re requested. As Hoffer explained to us, “The AG’s duty is clear. Under the Vermont Constitution and an unambiguous statute, the Attorney General must issue the opinion.” 


The lawsuit itself states that “The Attorney General has no discretion about whether to issue an opinion.”


According to an article in Vermont Digger, “The attorney general’s office drew a distinction between formal published opinions and informal legal advising, painting the former as rare. It stated it has offered ‘informal legal advice,’ to the auditor in the past. . .but that its ‘formal published. . .opinions typically do not relate to municipal law.’”


“The question posed was not about municipal law, it was about state law,” rejoinders Hoffer. “It was a state law administered by a state entity about a state program. The Attorney General’s decision not to provide the opinion requested is a sharp change in policy from her predecessors who routinely provided these types of opinions to the auditor’s office during my ten years in that position.


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