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New England News

Burlington City Councilors Consider Charter Changes For Town Meeting Day Ballot

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

There are four charter changes proposed for the Town Meeting Day ballot that Burlington city councilors had to approve at this week’s meeting in order for the measures to advance to a public hearing process before being voted on March 2.
Councilors spent hours debating and amending each charter change proposal.  The most controversial, sponsored by Central District Progressive Perri Freeman, would create a seven-member independent community board with the power to investigate and discipline police.  “I really strongly believe that this model and this proposal that we put forward is the right step. I think accountability is really important in what we’re doing to eliminate and mitigate police violence. It’s a really, really crucial part of this equation having a strong oversight model is something that really need as a community.”

Ward 4 Democrat Sarah Carpenter expressed concerns about the proposal.  “I strongly believe we need an independent body to support and help us with how discipline is enacted.  Originally we were starting with an oversight model. Now we have a control model. We’re close in the conceptual perspective but I’m feeling just very uncomfortable with some of this level of detail we’re proposing which will now be embedded in the charter.”

The measure passed on a 7 to 5 vote with all Democrats on the council opposing and all the Progressives supporting it.

Another proposal that came under scrutiny is called Just Cause Evictions.  Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine passionately called for approval.  "We’re talking about closing a loophole that gives tenants a little bit of protection. Evictions is one of the most destabilizing things that can happen to people. So please don’t turn this into rent control because that’s not what we’re talking about. That’s a really misleading argument.  Secondly we don’t know how big a problem this is because guess what? Many of these no-cause evictions happen through a phone call or an email or a conversation in the yard that says we’re going to end this tenancy. You need to be out. Period. They don’t go to court. There are times when the rights of those who have very little power need to be bolstered.  We’re bolstering the rights of those who don’t navigate well in the market because they don’t own property.”

The Just Cause Evictions measure passed on a 10 to 2 vote.

A charter change establishing enabling legislation to permit the city to regulate thermal energy systems in residential and commercial building passed by the same margin.  

City councilors unanimously moved forward a charter change that would add a representative from the city of Winooski to the airport commission.

There will now be a series of public hearings on the proposals.  

During the meeting South District Democrat Joan Shannon was repeatedly interrupted by her cell phone, which was silenced, but audibly ringing through her computer.  As the meeting ended City Council President Progressive Max Tracy, who is a candidate for mayor, chastised people who are harassing councilors.  “Over the weekend we had vandalism at several councilors’ homes. That is completely unacceptable. And I think that when we have these incidents take place and when we see this behavior it takes our focus away from the discussion of these crucial issues. So people need to stop this.”

Any charter changes passed by Burlington voters must also be approved by the state legislature.

 

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