Burlington City Council holds special meeting to review a settlement agreement and a downtown development project
The Burlington, Vermont City Council held a special meeting Tuesday evening. Councilors spent most of the time in executive session to discuss a settlement agreement to end a lawsuit and to also receive an update on a major downtown construction project.
In September 2018 three brothers were at a downtown bar in Burlington when a fight broke out and police were called. According to court documents Jeremie Meli was forceably pushed without warning by then-Burlington Police Sargent Jason Bellavance “causing him to fall backwards, hit his head, and lose consciousness.” Meli, who is Black, was charged with simple assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. All charges were eventually dropped against him and his two brothers.
A lawsuit was filed in federal court in May 2019.
During the special city council meeting Tuesday, councilors met to review in executive session a stipulated settlement agreement. Assistant City Attorney Jared Pellerin explained the tentative settlement between the city and the Melis.
“Because they are not final until the point that both parties have signed that tentative agreement and it has been presented to the court and the court considers the stipulated settlement agreement, and if they accept it, at which time that would finalize the litigation," said Pellerin. "Until such time as it’s finalized by the court things could hypothetically change. We don’t expect that to be the case. But they are sensitive. And so at this point we still would counsel you all to keep those terms of the stipulated agreement confidential.”
Pellerin added that because the agreement is tentative, it is confidential under an exemption to the state’s Public Records Act.
“If someone from the public was to seek the tentative negotiated agreement at this point it would be subject to an exemption of the Public Records Act because, again, it isn’t finalized by the court and until that happens we can’t release it," noted Pellerin. "But at which point it does become finalized we will then be able to provide the public with a copy of the finalized agreement, which we intend to do and I know that’s the city’s intention as well.”
The incident led to a series of rallies and protests against the Burlington Police Department and calls for the officers involved to be fired. Following an investigation Sargent Bellavance was placed on a four-day suspension without pay and later fired.
Ward 2 Progressive Gene Bergman asked that the administration keep the council closely apprised regarding the settlement. Mayor Miro Weinberger said there are stipulations as to what will be released prior to and after court approval.
“The agreement specifically calls for a statement worked out between the Meli brothers and the mayor so I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for consultation there," said Mayor Weinberger. "But I understand that interest.”
“Thank you for noting that and I do think it would be prudent to advise them and for us to be, to the extent 0possible, to be involved," replied Councilor Bergman. "And I have a hard time seeing how that could not be possible. But I really hope that you do everything you can to make that possible.”
“OK," agreed the Mayor. "I hear what you’re saying councilor. Understood.”
A second item on the agenda for an executive session was an update to the CityPlace redevelopment project in the city center. Mayor Weinberger explained that there are upcoming actions the city will be taking regarding the project.
“One of those actions you’ve already approved, which is we do intend to borrow $18.8 million for TIF (Tax Increment Financing) investment later in the month of June," said Weinberger. "As we talked about last November when the council approved the development agreement, our attorney said publicly and privately that it was likely that future amendments were going to be necessary. And it’s now been about eight or so months since that vote. The project has evolved and there are some updates to it that we think should be reflected in the updated ARDA (Amended and Restated Development Agreement) agreement and we think that should be done in advance of the bonding or the debt being incurred later in June.”
A public vote on an updated City Place agreement is expected at the next full city council meeting Monday.