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Mandatory Masks and Mural Removal Are Among Issues Considered By Burlington Councilors

Burlington City Hall
Burlington City Hall (file)

The Burlington City Council had a number of items to consider this week during its virtual session.
Republican Vermont Governor Phil Scott has not made wearing masks in public mandatory but will allow localities to require people to wear face coverings during the pandemic. Burlington councilors took up an emergency order that requires “both staff and customers to wear cloth face coverings or face shields over their nose and mouth…”.  During public comment residents approved the idea including Dale Tillitson.   “I also hope the surrounding communities of Burlington take a look at this and also join into this. With the 20% of the people that I see that are not masked up that puts our lives in danger.”

Lead sponsor South District Democrat Joan Shannon says the mandate is a workers rights issue.  “The governor has required workers to wear masks. But the workers themselves would not be protected unless members of the public coming into the store were also wearing masks. Nor would the customers be protected unless other customers were also wearing masks. There are people that disagree. But for the most part I think the public really wants this to feel like they're safe in the shopping environment.”

Ward 7 Independent Ali Dieng opposed mandating face coverings.  “This resolution is almost meaningless. You making things required and there is no way of enforcing them. It is just reminding me of a policy on Church Street asking people to not smoke on Church Street but people smoke all the time. I am also wanting to add that some business owners did make it very clear to many of us that the city should not get involved in such a policy requiring people to wear mask. This should be a discussion between the business owner and also the customer.”

For several years the city council has been considering the fate of a mural that lines a walkway between the Church Street Marketplace and a parking garage.  Titled “Everyone Loves A Parade” it claims to depict Vermont’s and Burlington’s history.  But it is controversial because it shows no prominent people of color or Native Americans.  A previous council had voted to remove the mural by August 2022.  A resolution offered by Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine accelerates its removal to August 31st this year.   “This mural is deeply problematic. It has divided us and caused pain in our community and does not accurately reflect our rich history as a people and as a place. It's ultimately an exclusionary piece of work that essentially erases entire groups and races of people. It erases them. And it essentially implies that we are here in a great state and a great community almost entirely due to the work of people of European descent and I think that that causes real pain and real harm.”

Joan Shannon feels the time and money to remove the mural would be better spent on COVID relief efforts.  “It's a very costly symbolic effort. And to the extent that we have funds to address racial issues and inequities I think we should spend those funds at this point in time in ways that meet a very real need in our community that go beyond symbolic gestures. I'm not defending the mural but I am not willing to move this up on the priority list at this point in time.”

Both resolutions passed on 11 to 1 votes.


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