In the wake of Burlington city voters approving a resolution asking that the U.S. Air Force cancel plans to base the F-35 fighter jet at the Vermont National Guard base, two nearby city councils this week passed similar resolutions to forward to military officials.
The Burlington City council approved the Town Meeting Day ballot item passed by city voters. Mayor Miro Weinberger refused to sign it but did forward the resolution along with an analysis of the ballot question, which calls into question its validity, and a series of questions for the Secretary of the Air Force to answer.
On Monday, both the Winooski and South Burlington city councils considered similar resolutions. Winooski Mayor Seth Leonard described their resolution mirroring the recent Burlington action. “The city has consistently said we think Burlington should be passed over in this round of basing until those questions can be addressed or answered.”
In South Burlington, where the F-35 basing has been a contentious issue for years, more than an hour of comments were taken and councilors debated whether there should be a formal public hearing on the resolution. But long before that even came up on the agenda, the F-35’s swooped into the proceedings. The council’s first item was a resolution to honor Councilor Pat Nowak, a staunch supporter of the F-35 who died on March 31st. Her daughter, Alison Cossette, lashed out at Council Chair Helen Riehle for scheduling the two resolutions on the same night. “I find these actions extremely disingenuous. On behalf of my mother I know that if the situation were reversed and she were still the chair of this council she would never choose to set the agenda the way that you have this evening.”
Riehle: “It was not an intention.”
Cossette: “An agenda is intentional. It’s a very conscious decision. If you meant to honor my mother you would have opened it to a public vote as they did in other cities and you would honor the people of this town and this city the way that she would have wanted to.”
About an hour of public comment was taken when the resolution asking the Air Force to cancel the basing of the F-35 came up. “My name is Lani Ravin and I live in South Burlington. It just seems insane to me that we’re willing to negatively affect thousands of houses.”
“Frank Cioffi, South Burlington resident and I’m the president of GBIC, Greater Burlington Industrial Corp. This resolution we could lose the guard. There is no guaranteed mission here period.”
“Hi I’m Lucy Gluck. The C-130 which has been put forward as an alternate mission does provide more jobs.”
“Dan Finnegan I’m an Essex resident. Has anyone heard a C-130? They fly lower. They fly slower. Reading your resolution it doesn’t read like a significant amount of research was done.”
Vermont National Guard Commander General Steven Cray was unable to attend the meeting and City Council President Riehle read a message he had texted to her. “I’m disappointed by the council resolution but not surprised. These resolutions in no way support the Vermont Air Guard.”
South Burlington councilor Tom Chittenden argued that the resolution should have a full public hearing. “I’m just concerned that if we act tonight, if we don’t schedule a public hearing and do this the right way, I just think it continues to degrade the public’s confidence. Do it the right way.”
Riehle: “Well I guess I would just counter it was on the agenda. Whomever was here was free to speak.”
The resolution passed the South Burlington City Council on a 3 to 1 vote. In Winooski, there was less than 15 minutes of comment and debate before the city councilors passed the resolution unanimously.