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Recapping Vermont’s Town Meeting Day

Vermont Town Meeting Day graphic
Pat Bradley/WAMC

Vermonters gathered in town halls, school auditoriums and grange halls yesterday to discuss local issues and vote during the state’s annual Town Meeting Day.  WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley has a recap.   
Berlin, Vermont is a small town south of Montpelier with a population just under 2,900 people. On Town Meeting Day residents considered 24 items ranging from electing town officers to whether funds should be appropriated for various service agencies.  Guy Page attended and reports that there were about 50 or 60 voters and another 30 or 40 observers.  “Berlin has had a Town Meeting for who knows how long and yet the school board members were standing up and saying this may be the last time we have a town meeting for this school district in the Town of Berlin because there will be a forced merger, unless some sort of moratorium or some court decision intervenes, there’ll be a forced merger of five school districts including the Berlin School District. And so there was a sense of perhaps of loss and nostalgia among some of the people there.”

Middlebury College Professor Of Political Science Bert Johnson says there were a number of interesting ballot measures and elections across the state.  “I’m looking at particularly the plastic bag bans that were voted on in Manchester, Middlebury and Burlington. All of them passed overwhelmingly which may prompt state action on that.  I’m interested to see that Morristown changed its name to Morrisville. Bennington once again decided not to go to a mayoral system. They voted on it last year and it was defeated. We have a interesting set of races in Burlington in which Miro Weinberger who’s the mayor was not on the ballot but suffered some defeats when Progressive candidates defeated incumbent members of the city council that supported Weinberger. So he may have a tougher time getting his measures passed.”

In Burlington, two incumbents lost their city council seats, to Progressives Jack Hansen and Perri Freeman.  Executive Director of the Vermont Progressive Party Josh Wronski says Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger will have to change the way he works with Progressives.  “I think there’s kind of been this process where the Mayor makes the decision and then his allies on the council go and make it happen without really doing the work to reach out to his opposition. Now you have two candidates that unseated really allies of the mayor who offer a very different vision for our city and you have one of his key priorities the DID going down in a pretty large margin. I think what really shows is that people want the mayor to work with us  to move our city forward and I think we’re ready to do that.”

Five of the six ballot items in Burlington passed.  The one that failed asked voters to restructure the Downtown Improvement District or DID. Retired senior Assistant City Attorney Gene Bergman is among the opponents of the proposal.  “The voters of Burlington really understood that it was a rush job that was antidemocratic in the way that they promoted it. That it was privatization of what should be a public service, so to speak, and it was going to lead to gentrification and displacement and there was nothing in the program that would mitigate those.”

But Burlington Business Association Executive Director Kelly Devine says voters did not understand the intent of the question.  “The Downtown Improvement District already exists in Burlington and what this charter change was attempting to do was to put some more structure on it, give it a governance board, allow some city input and then also expand the scope of services it can provide.”

Winooski voters elected the city’s first woman mayor. Kristine Lott will fill two years of a three-year term. In Rutland, incumbent mayor David Allaire easily won re-election to a second two-year term.  

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