On Town Meeting Day in March, Burlington voters approved a resolution asking that the Air Force cancel the planned basing of F-35 fighter jets and find another mission for the National Guard base. A few weeks later, the city council voted to forward the resolution to the Secretary of the Air Force with additional questions. But Wednesday, the city’s mayor announced he will not sign the council‘s resolution.
A controversial question on the Town Meeting Day ballot asked: “Shall we, the voters of the city of Burlington, as part of our strong support for the men and women of the Vermont National Guard, and especially their mission to ‘protect the citizens of Vermont,’ advise the City Council to request the cancellation of the planned basing of the F-35 at Burlington International Airport, and request instead low-noise-level equipment with a proven high safety record appropriate for a densely populated area?” It passed 6,482 to 5,238.
A contentious debate occurred between city councilors and eventually the resolution with additional questions for the Air Force to answer was approved 9-3. But it is recently reelected Democratic Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger who has the final decision on whether to send it to the Air Force. On Wednesday he announced that after reviewing concerns he could not approve the resolution. “We spent a lot of time looking at the recent journalism on this issue. We spent a lot of time talking with federal officials, researching what’s happened in other communities and at the end of that I come through that really feeling stronger than ever that the basing of the F-35’s in Burlington will be positive for the region. I firmly believe that when the F-35’s come most people will experience the noise impacts to be similar to what they are today. And in contrast to that I think there would be very substantial adverse impacts on the economy and certainly on the airport if we were to choose not to have the F-35’s come here or the Air Force were to change its decision.”
While he is not signing the document, Mayor Weinberger is forwarding the City Council’s resolution, which includes the ballot question wording, and an analysis of the question by a University of Vermont researcher. “One part of the resolution I did support and in fact helped craft are the questions that have gone to the Air Force Secretary. I think there’s a great deal of misinformation and conflicting information about this issue and I think a definitive official answer on some of these questions from the Air Force might clear that up. I believe once that’s out there I think probably some of the people who voted yes might have voted differently if they had had that information at the outset. Secondly I do think, as that professor’s study points out, you know it’s difficult to know exactly what the yes vote means given that it’s essentially premised on this existence of this alternative mission which I don’t believe there’s any reason to think exists.”
James Leas helped organize the petition to place the question on the Town Meeting Day ballot. He is disappointed that the mayor is not signing the resolution and says it shows disregard for the voters. “He did decide not to veto the resolution though and that is positive. So it’s kind of a half a loaf situation. And it’s only because of pressure from top public officials that we have the F-35 here in the first place.”
According to his office, this is the first time Mayor Weinberger has not signed a city council resolution.