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Burlington City Council Reviews Options To Deal With Downtown Graffiti

Burlington sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC

The Burlington, Vermont City Council met this week and approved several routine ordinance changes. Councilors also heard an update on police transformation initiatives and discussed what to do about graffiti in the city center.

Tension between the city of Burlington, activists and the police department has built for over a year.  A Police Transformation Joint Committee was formed at the end of June 2020. It has hired consultants to review policing and draft strategies for policing in Burlington.  During Monday’s meeting committee chair Ward 1 Progressive Zoraya Hightower updated interactions with consultants

“They’re really supposed to be getting community feedback," Hightower said. "They’re supposed to draft a strategy for continuous community input into a methodical transition to public safety. Switching to CNA, is a larger contract. They’re supposed reevaluate the public safety needs in Burlington and reassess the role of BPD (Burlington Police Department). The final report is supposed to provide a recommended menu of city services to add or enhance or to reduce or remove, an analysis of the benefits and barriers to policing alternatives. So it’s supposed to provide some options.”

Councilors also heard a presentation on a graffiti removal initiative.  Mayor Miro Weinberger and Chief Administrative Officer had tasked Business Support Director Kara Alnasrawi with addressing complaints and concerns over an increase in graffiti especially in the downtown core.  

“Phase one involves hiring a team temporarily to address the current situation and try and ameliorate and remediate it," Alnaswari said. "And then moving forward to try and put a lasting solution to assess graffiti as it comes up.”  

During public comments resident Lilla Fortunoff criticized the city’s focus on graffiti. 

“There is a history of graffiti being undesirable because it’s directly tied to anti-Black racism," Fortunoff said. "It’s not surprising that the city wants to prioritize getting rid of the graffiti because it’s going to look nicer for tourists but I would love to know how much money is going to be spent on this. Graffiti is just going to continually be a problem.”
City Council President Max Tracy:  “Our next speaker will be Dan Cunningham.”
Cunningham: “Graffiti is not art. When it’s done on other people’s property it’s a crime. Its damaging property and its costing individuals and business owners significant time and money.”

“People have said wow downtown doesn’t look as nice anymore," said Burlington Business Association Executive Director Kelly Devin. "And I think there’s room for both art, which the plan calls for, as well as cleaning up graffiti. Downtown Burlington I often think of as our community living room. And while some members of our community don’t have a problem with graffiti you know some of the messages could be offensive to some folks. I think it’s really important that we look at it as a community initiative.”

Alnasrawi emphasized they are just initiating work to deal with graffiti and future work will include more community input. 

“This memo is simply addressing Phase One right now which is the actual physical cleanup of the city and the amount of graffiti that again has accumulated over the past year," Alnasrawi said. "In terms of how the city’s going to be handling graffiti moving forward at the bottom of the memo I suggest that we bring in youth organizations, members from the arts community.  More voices at the table will be helpful in terms of how the community views graffiti and the best way moving forward that includes all of these perspectives.”

Councilors approved the reports and placed them on file.

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