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Burlington City Council fails to override mayor’s veto of community police control board

Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 12:32 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 at 9:10 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington City Council fell short one vote of the number needed to override Mayor Miro Weinberger’s veto of a proposed charter change on police discipline.

The council needed eight votes in order for the override to be successful. Councilors voted 7-5 on Monday night, with all six Progressives and the council’s sole independent voting to override the veto and all five Democrats voting to sustain it.

The proposal, which passed the City Council 7-5 in December, seeks to give a newly created board of citizens the authority to discipline police officers accused of misconduct. It would give the board the power to fire an officer, including the police chief, reduce their rank or suspend them without pay. They would also have the authority to investigate a range of complaints including excessive force, unlawful arrest and disrespect.

Days before that vote, Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington, proposed his own plan, which would give the mayor and the Burlington Police Commission a say in disciplinary decisions and investigative authority. Weinberger called a special meeting the following week, which ended with the council voting to move the resolution forward to a public vote in March.

However, on New Year’s Eve, Weinberger issued a veto of the council’s proposal. In his rejection letter, he wrote that he’s concerned the community police control board “will contribute to the dismantling of the Burlington Police Department and compromise the City’s ability to ensure public safety.”

During his remarks at the City Council meeting, Weinberger said he met with Progressive councilors during the weekend with the goal of reaching common ground on the proposed charter change. He says they shared new ideas with him on Monday afternoon.

“Unfortunately, however, the changes transmitted this afternoon fell well short of addressing my fundamental concern that the current Charter Change proposal will undermine the City’s ability to ensure public safety – specifically, that when the public calls, we are able to respond with professional public employees who are trained for the full range of emergencies and needs that the public expects to be addressed,” Weinberger said. “It is very unfortunate that a clear opportunity for consensus and progress on this important policing and racial justice issue was missed. Prior to the key vote on this Charter Change on December 14, I made repeated requests for the City Councilors who have led this effort to engage the Administration. Unfortunately, they declined to collaborate sooner. I believe that had we been able to have those discussions earlier, before that vote, we now would have a Charter Change with broad support heading to the ballot for Burlington voters to decide in March.”

Some members of the community say they agree with Weinberger’s assessment of the potential challenges of this community police control board but they think the community should still get a say.

“Giving us the power to change it would, I think, literally save lives and just make it safer in general,” said Lila Woodard of Burlington.

“I agree to a certain extent. Like, it can’t just be an anarchy. There can’t just be no police officers but there definitely needs to be more training and stuff for police,” said Callum Pace of Burlington.

Whether for or against the proposal, people we spoke with in Burlington were hoping for a veto override to get a chance to weigh in on Town Meeting Day.

“I sort of like building a society that is really nice for the people around me and that people feel safe in. A nice and inclusive community and to be able for it to just be rejected that easily without any effort just sucks,” said Simon Donoway of Burlington.

“I think it would be a shame, you know. It’s a part of democracy. So I’m all for it. I think they should let the community have an input,” said Michaela Clarkson of Jeffersonville.

Along with dozens of community members who spoke out during Monday’s City Council meeting, some people WCAX News spoke to were critical of Weinberger’s rejection of the proposed charter change and his claim that it would compromise public safety.

“I think that’s just another excuse to put off things that are going to make people angry. It’s not going to please everyone obviously,” said Woodard.

“A community is made up by a bunch of people. For one person to be able to say, ‘Yeah, no. Never mind,’ at least make some effort,” said Donoway.

Former Burlington mayor Peter Clavelle also chimed in via email. He said he shares the City Council’s interest in transforming policing and addressing systemic racism, but he urged the council to come up with a different proposal that is less specific than the one they passed in December.

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