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Burlington City Council holds first public hearing on Town Meeting Day charter change ballot questions

Burlington sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Sign in downtown Burlington (file)

The Burlington, Vermont City Council held its first public hearing this week for residents to comment on proposed charter change questions that will be on the Town Meeting Day ballot in March.

Vermont law requires a municipality to hold at least two public hearings before any vote is held on proposed charter changes. On March 7th Burlington voters will see questions proposed by both the city council and citizen petitioners. Assistant City Attorney Jared Pellerin began Tuesday’s hearing with an overview of the six proposed charter changes.

“The first is a proposal that will allow for mayoral, school board and election official contests to be decided by Ranked Choice Voting. A second proposal is all legal resident voting. Third is a proposal for the siting of polling places and qualifications of voters. Fourth is redistricting. The charter change proposal seeks to amend the election boundaries to provide for four city electoral districts and eight city wards. The next two provisions come to the city by way of voters. The first is known as Proposition 0 and this charter proposal would allow residents through petition to place ordinance changes and advisory items directly on the ballot. The sixth charter change proposal would create a new police oversight board.”

The floor then opened to public comment. While there are six questions, the focus was on the citizen petitions and redistricting. Ward 8 resident Tyler Pastorek supports Proposition 0 allowing residents to directly initiate ballot questions.

“Every other town in Vermont has some sort of process for residents to directly propose changes to city laws and it’s what Vermont is built on, town hall democracy, and this would bring Burlington into alignment with that. And as someone who has spent many, many hours gathering signatures, it’s not easy at all and so it’s not something that’s going to blow up in our town and it just allows the community a way to step in and directly propose changes.”

Resident Amy Malinowski advocated for passage of the proposal to create an independent police community oversight board.

“It’s a very basic idea: the police chief should not have sole authority over discipline in cases of misconduct. Police can’t oversee themselves. And while the mayor and chief will talk a lot about all these improvements that they want to make, none of these improvements address changing the charter to fix this issue and this proposal is a path to ensure that.”

Ward 8 resident Maddy Posig noted that she and her neighbors have been following the redistricting process since it began in 2021.

“Our group strongly supported the map that you adopted on December 12th and we thought redistricting was a done deal. So it was incredibly disheartening to learn that several new maps are being promoted at the eleventh hour. I actually find it somewhat unbelievable that maps are being presented over a month after a final map was adopted.”

State law allows a charter proposal made by a legislative body to be revised based on comments made during the public hearings up to 20 days before Town Meeting Day. The city council does not have authority to revise a charter proposal submitted by a citizen petition.

A second public hearing on the Town Meeting Day charter change ballot questions is scheduled for January 23rd at 5:30 via Zoom and in Burlington City Hall’s Contois Auditorium.

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