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Burlington City Council Considers Black Lives Matter Mural Resolution And Ranked Choice Voting

The Black Lives Matter flag flies in front of Burlington City Hall
Pat Bradley/WAMC
The Black Lives Matter flag flies in front of Burlington City Hall

The Burlington City Council had a number of items on its agenda this week including whether to ask voters to approve a ranked choice voting system for the city.
Among the routine agenda items were appointments and permit applications.  A proposed ordinance dealing with minimum parking requirements for developments was referred to committee and scheduled for public hearing.  Councilors also received an update on the city’s Net Zero Energy plan. Burlington Electric Department General Manager Darren Springer reported that energy efficiency initiatives are saving about $11 million annually for customers.  “The Net Zero Energy Goal it is essentially a goal to reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuel use by 2030. It is not a Burlington Electric specific effort but really a broader city and community effort.”   

Most residents who participated in public comments focused on a proposal to put a Charter Change question on the November ballot. It would change the city’s voting system to ranked choice voting for mayor, city councilors and school commissioners. The system had previously been used but was rescinded in 2010.  Vermont Public Interest Research Group Government Reform Associate Kate Lapp reflected the majority of callers who want the question to be put on the ballot.  “I think there’s growing recognition that ranked choice voting encourages candidates to engage with more voters and not just their base. We believe the time is right to bring this approach back to Burlington.”

Former city councilor Kurt Wright called in to say ranked choice was a failed experiment.  “It did not deliver on the things that people are calling for.  Higher voter turnout did not materialize. It did not do away with negative campaigning.  What it did do is it created a homogenous vanilla-type campaign where everybody was afraid to take strong positions. But really the worst part is that it’s about Town Meeting Day voting and it should be left to Town Meeting Day voters.”

Councilors voted 6 to 5 to place the question on the fall ballot.

Councilors also unanimously approved a plan to paint a Black Lives Matter muralon the street adjacent to City Hall - but not without debate.   Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul offered the resolution.  “Over hundreds of years murals have actually been a tool of persuasion. And what better place than to have this right in front of City Hall to show our solidarity.”

Ward 7 Independent Ali Dieng pointed out that a controversial mural only a few blocks away has not yet been removed.  “As a Black person and also an elected official no one can lecture me about what racism is and how what it feels like. And I think it is a little bit hypocritical the white supremacist mural that many of the people who are supporting this resolution voted in favor of leaving it up. It is not right to put a Black Lives Matter mural and to also continually leave the white supremacist mural on Church Street Marketplace. I will not be voting against this resolution but I think it would have been very important to stay consistent.”

The Black Lives Matter mural will be painted Sunday at 2 p.m. on Main Street next to City Hall.  Participants must follow mask and social distancing guidelines.