The Burlington City Council met for the last time in 2019 on Monday and debated whether three proposed charter changes should appear on March’s Town Meeting Day ballot.
Most of the debate on the charter change proposals had occurred in previous meetings as the items were drafted by the Charter Change Committee.
Ward 2 Progressive Max Tracy explained that the first charter change is related to an issue brought to the council by the city clerk’s office regarding the availability of election ballots.
“In elections where there is a state ballot and a city ballot, the state ballot becomes available 45 days before the election and the city ballot about 28 days before the election, causing in some cases when a ballot has been requested to have the state ballot be sent separately from the city ballot. What we see is that the state ballot gets returned and then the city ballot does not. So what this would allow us to do is combine the two and send them out at the same time. That of course would require that the city ballot be ready prior to where it is now.”
East District Progressive Jack Hanson noted that school boards recently raised concerns about an accelerated timeframe impacting their ability to place school tax rates or budgets on the March ballot. “At least one school commissioner doesn't feel that they would be able to have the numbers in time for that 45 day deadline.”
The council approved placing that charter change question on the ballot.
It then considered a charter change that would add two members to the Airport Commission. Airport Commission Vice-chair Bill Keogh spoke to the council. "We're just concerned that we had no input with respect to this item, because it's not as simple as just adding one more seat to the table. So there's a lot of implications for this and acting on this tonight is a little bit premature.”
Commission Chair Jeff Munger added: “The airport commission did hold a vote on this very topic and it was unanimously defeated.”
City Council President Kurt Wright: “Unanimous in opposition?”
North District Democrat Franklin Paulino asked the commissioners if more members might help manage airport noise and the newly based F-35 fighter jets. “Some believe that by giving Winooski a seat, you know, it would sort of give Winooski say over management of the F-35s. Can you explain if that's a possibility?”
Keogh: “We have no say in the operation or anything of the F 35.”
Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul offered a motion to table, which passed 7 to 3. That means the question will not be on the Town Meeting Day ballot. The panel then moved to the third charter change question, which would allow permanent resident noncitizens to vote in local city elections. Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine says the idea is not unique and is done in other cities. “It is really, I think a way to extend our democracy to people who've already made an investment in this community. Many of whom are actually paying taxes. They have children or schools, and they cannot participate until they go through a lengthy, lengthy citizenship process.”
Councilor Tracy reported that the Charter Change Committee did encounter one privacy concern as they researched the ramifications of the proposed change. “One of the issues we dealt with was the issue of or maintenance of the separate list. There was some concern expressed around targeting of that by the federal government specifically. What was shared with us by the city attorney is that that information because of their permanent residence status would already rest with the federal government. And these are folks who have permanent resident status would be the ones who'd be eligible under this to actually participate in those those local elections.”
The charter change proposal to allow resident noncitizens to vote passed 9 to 1 vote and moves forward to the Town Meeting Day ballot.