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Burlington Neighborhood Planning Assemblies Discuss Redistricting

Burlington sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC

The latest quarterly meeting of Burlington, Vermont’s combined Neighborhood Planning Assemblies focused on the city’s upcoming redistricting and what the groups’ role will be in gathering public input.

Burlington has eight Neighborhood Planning Assemblies that represent a ward and are intended to advocate at the grassroots level to improve communication with city government.

A recent combined all-NPA meeting reviewed the legal framework for redistricting and a city council resolution creating a committee to implement the process.

Ward 7 steering committee member Jeff Comstock says the NPA’s will need to take the information from the meeting and quickly put it into practice.

“Almost more importantly is to create citizen interest in the ad hoc committee for redistricting because that’s actually the purpose of the next NPA meeting is for the steering committees to be electing the citizen representatives that are going to represent them on the ad hoc steering committees.”

Assistant City Attorney Justin St. James provided a general overview of redistricting, which occurs every 10 years to adjust electoral district boundaries to meet the Constitutional requirement of equal representation.

“And so to ensure equal representation the city has a responsibility to redraw ward boundaries and get voter and legislative approval for a charter change if populations have shifted.”

On June 28th the city council passed a resolution to create an ad-hoc committee on redistricting which will include a member from each ward chosen by each NPA. North District Independent city councilor Mark Barlow said the council wants the NPA’s to oversee public meetings to collect input on redistricting.

“What we’re hoping is through that process the committee will make recommendations to the city council. The council will then take that information and those recommendations and create a resolution," Barlow said. "And part of the resolution will be to incorporate the recommendations and give that work then to a mapping specialist to create one or more maps that the council will then consider and select for inclusion ideally on Town Meeting Day next year 2022.”

East District Progressive Jack Hanson clarified the current role of the NPAs.

“The NPA’s job right now is to really to identify a delegate or a member to serve on this ad hoc committee. I don’t want people to feel overwhelmed that you as NPA steering committees have to determine all of these things. Really what you have to determine is that delegate to join the ad hoc committee.”

Some of the discussion veered into more detailed expectations of redistricting. Ward 4 NPA steering committee member Evan Litwin was curious how social equity will impact the process.

“To what degree, if at all, are the changing racial demographics of Burlington taken into account in the redistricting process?”

But Ward 7 NPA member Matt Hurlburt wondered if that was prudent.

“This question is not meant to be wise but could someone explain to me what racial diversity has to do with counting bodies for a voting district?”

Assistant City Attorney St. James jumped in to note that redistricting cannot be separated based on race, ethnicity or religion.

“You can get down to the granular level of what they call census blocks which are groupings of houses and apartment buildings. That’s the sort of smallest granular level. So I just think we want to be careful.”