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Burlington City Councilors Consider Social Justice Resolutions At This Week’s Meeting

Burlington City Hall
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington City Hall (file)

After a nearly month-long break, the Burlington City Council met earlier this week.  Before an executive session there was a short public update on a stalled downtown development project. Also on the Council’s agenda were two items supported by local racial justice advocates.
The Burlington City Council meeting began with a motion to go into executive session to receive an update on the stalled Burlington CityPlace development project.  In late July the city issued a notice of default to the developer Brookfield Properties alleging bad faith and fraud and warning of possible litigation.  Burlington’s legal counsel Jeffrey Glassberg provided a public update before councilors entered executive session.  “Representatives of Devonwood Investors including reported new partners have reached out to the city to ask for the city’s engagement in discussions about their plans to move forward with the project without Brookfield. Secondly, there has been interest in the site and the project from third parties including well-capitalized experienced national firms. While the city does not own the site these expressions of interest from others are a positive sign.”

Two resolutions on the council’s deliberative agenda focused on social justice issues.  One directs the Charter Change Committee to create an ordinance that would protect residential tenants from eviction without just cause.  Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine says there has been a decades-long effort in the city to  protect tenants from unjust evictions.  “This is a way to ensure that residential tenants get some degree of stability. Those who are following their leases, who are not breaking their leases, breaking the law have some degree of reliability and stability in their housing. it is important to know that right now there is a no-cause way to terminate a tenancy and that was, that's a loophole essentially so that's what we're trying to get at”

Ward 4 Democrat Sarah Carpenter noted that because the evictions measure is a charter change it would eventually have to be approved by the Vermont legislature.  “We as a city do not have the absolute right to set our own landlord tenant law.  That's set by the state of Vermont. And what this resolution is doing is asking permission from the state of Vermont to be able to regulate, further regulate, residential rental housing. We haven't written any ordinances. We haven't proposed any parameters. None of that work has been done. This is asking permission from the state of Vermont.”

The resolution passed unanimously and the Charter Change Committee will prepare a question for the March Town Meeting Day ballot.

A proposal was also offered during this week’s city council meeting that would  “study and develop reparation proposalsfor African Americans living in Burlington as a result of the institution of slavery.”   Central District Progressive Perri Freeman sponsored the resolution.  “Making reparations does feel like a very basic foundational step that we need to take in order to begin the process of making amends. I think there are few instances in our history that are more horrific and just really excruciatingly brutal.  That idea resonated with me because of the desire sometimes to look away from these histories when what we really need to do is acknowledge them and actually looking at this history is what is going to help right it or at least start to do that.”

The resolution passed unanimously.

Vermont abolished adult slavery in the state in 1777 in Article 1 of its constitution.  The legislature is moving a constitutional amendment to clarify that all slavery is banned.


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