The Board of Aldermen voted Monday to open settlement negotiations in a small-claims lawsuit.
You would not be able to tell that from the public record, though, because the motion approved by the board after it came out of executive session was to “authorize city attorney on discussed matter on discussed terms.”
Jenny Prosser, general counsel and director of municipal assistance for the Vermont secretary of state’s office, said Wednesday that while Vermont law requires votes — with the exception of real estate purchases — be held in open session, there are not requirements on the scrutibility of motions.
“The law doesn’t even address that conceptually,” she said. “It does come up a lot — this is not a new situation for me. It usually comes up in the context of personnel — they want to hire someone or discipline someone without saying the same.”
Prosser said case law is similarly quiet.
“We’re waiting for that case, I guess,” she said. “If the Legislature wanted to put some guidelines on there, I guess they could do that.”
City Attorney Matt Bloomer wrote in an email Wednesday that he had been given parameters for negotiations and that he tried to craft a motion that kept those parameters and the identity of the lawsuit quiet so as to avoid tipping the city’s hand in negotiations. He also said the motion was essentially meaningless because any actual settlement would have to be specifically approved by the board in open session.
“I thought it might be useful to have a record that I’d been given some parameters within which to negotiate a settlement,” he wrote. “It was my attempt on short notice to come up with some nondescript motion that memorialized their direction to me, but it was only intended to be mysterious for the various plaintiffs with pending suits out there!”
Alderman Thomas DePoy voted against the motion. He said Monday this had less to do with the specific case, which deals with property that was seized during an arrest in 2016, and more to do with the city’s overall patterns of dealing with claims.
“There was a bunch of stuff talked about in executive session that irritated me, but I can’t talk about that,” DePoy said. “In a general sense, I’m starting to get sick of the city getting taken advantage of in these frivolous lawsuits. ... At some point, the city has to start sticking up for itself and start fighting some of these frivolous lawsuits instead of settling them.”
DePoy said the history of the plaintiff in this case — Adam Cijka — indicated it could be worth fighting. Cijka is currently at the Southern State Correctional Facility serving a four to 14-year sentence on several felony convictions stemming from a check-forging spree.
The lawsuit stems from a 2016 incident in which Cijka was arrested — though the charges appear to be dropped — in a rental car that had been reported stolen. According to the lawsuit filed last month in Rutland County civil court, police seized 60 packs of cigarettes, a word processor, a pair of hair clippers, an iPod Touch and $330 in cash, and that when he tried to reclaim them a few days later, they were missing and he was told they were destroyed. The lawsuit seeks a total of $2,090.
Police Commission Chairman Sean Sargeant said there was an ongoing internal investigation into what became of the items and referred further questions to Chief Brian Kilcullen, who did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.