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Burlington councilors review a number of city projects during their latest meeting

Burlington City Hall
Pat Bradley
Burlington City Hall

The Burlington, Vermont City Council had no resolutions on its agenda this week. Councilors instead held work sessions and heard presentations on several city projects.

The city council’s agenda included a presentation on reconnecting Bank and Cherry Streetsin the downtown. Between 2016 and 2018 officials in Burlington created plans to reconnect the two streets that had been divided by construction of a shopping mall during a 1960’s and 1970’s urban renewal project. The opportunity arose as the CityPlace project moved forward and federal funding was obtained to advance a Great Streets project. Ward 7 Democrat Evan Litwin was curious how the street redesign addresses downtown safety issues.

“I do want to address sort of the elephant in the room,” Litwin begins. “My constituents are concerned about the safety situation and we just heard from the Church Street Marketplace commissioner that Church Street is in peril, that people are afraid to go down there, that businesses are leaving. And so I think we do really need to factor in something that is maybe normally outside of your purview, and that is the physical safety that people need to feel to be able to come down and feel safe walking around downtown.”

In recent weeks a homeless encampment has appeared between Waterfront Park and North Beach just off the bike path. The city placed portable toilets and a dumpster nearby.

In a memo to councilors, Progressive Mayor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak says she had staff begin working on a plan to address the health concerns of the unsheltered and do a legal review of any city response to the encampments.

“This I really consider a proactive plan that addresses the chronic issues that the city has seen with encampments for the last several years,” Mulvaney-Stanak says. “This is also an attempt to really address the fact that we have a health and safety crisis, an emergency, with the number of people who are unhoused in Burlington and growing. And when I talk about safety, this is primarily for the safety of the folks who are forced to live outside, considering we have limited emergency shelter beds, not only in our city and county but the entire state, but also the safety and well-being of our staff who are here to support folks in Burlington, but also to the public at large.”

Late last week the Burlington Police Department and the School District were criticized for a joint demonstration when a group of students were visiting the police department. An armed robbery played out with faux gunfire and screaming. The students had not been forewarned and according to social media posts were terrified.

During public comments Progressive/Democrat House Representative Troy Headrick, who represents part of Chittenden County in the Vermont House, told city councilors the apology issued by the police department and school district was unsatisfactory.

“The fact that BPD even had to ask the school if this would be appropriate training indicates their acknowledgement that they may have designed a really questionable training event,” says Headrick. “It is clear that BPD leadership doesn't have the sense to understand why this sort of training should not have even been conceived, especially in the context that today's students are unfortunately, very well-conditioned to the reality that the next predictable instance of gun violence could very easily occur in their classroom. We wouldn't think of teaching students about effective escape routes during a fire by introducing actual fire. Similarly, we don't teach about retaining information during an incident of gun violence by introducing actual gun violence. There is a crisis of trust with our police department and this incident is one more example of how that has developed.”

While there was little discussion among councilors about the incident, Mayor Mulvaney-Stanak addressed it at the end of the meeting.

“I was deeply disappointed to learn about the curriculum used, the incident or the scenario used,” the Mayor said. “It showed poor judgment and it was not trauma informed. It was not age appropriate. For me, this is a significant not only learning opportunity, but an accountability moment to make sure that we have deeper reflection and action, frankly, of changing that curriculum and do better. We need to have culturally competent curriculum, age-appropriate curriculum, and also, especially with our young people, acknowledging that we need to be informed about in the culture and the times which everyone under the age of 30 has lived since Columbine. And it was unacceptable and I've made that clear.”

Councilors also received an update on the Champlain Parkway Project and held a work session on the proposed 2025 General Fund Budget.

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