Burlington city councilors vote on redistricting plan

Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 12:20 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Some Burlington residents who are unhappy with the city’s proposed districting map are catching a break, while others are upset by the process.

In a 6-4 vote, Burlington councilors voted in favor of redistricting the city’s student-heavy Ward 8. Ward 8 is sometimes referred to as the “salamander district” given its odd shape. Ward 8 was drawn 10 years ago with the intention of cutting out student housing.

On Monday night, there were a lot of thoughts, good and bad, shared about redistricting.

Those living in Ward 8 wanted a map that included more permanent residents, whereas those from surrounding wards were clear they were wary of taking on too many students.

The redistricting map voted on by councilors Monday night was posted online to the public at 4:30 p.m., just one hour before the official start of the meeting. With the deadline to hold a vote on Town Meeting Day looming, some people say the process was rushed.

“With all of the back and forth that’s happened you ought to get a little more input on the maps you just posted,” said Ward 1 resident Erhardt Mahnke, who submitted a map of his own for consideration.

However, City Council President Karen Paul said they were limited to voting on two maps. Ultimately, councilors voted in favor of the map you see here. The goal of redistricting was to evenly distribute student housing among the central wards.

Those in Ward 8 say historically they’ve had too many students, making it hard to find candidates, encourage voter turnout, and find poll workers.

“This ward that was created 10 years ago is primarily comprised of a disengaged electorate,” said Ward 8 resident Maddy Posig. “All we in Ward 8 are asking for is a ward that has a fair and balanced population.”

Some at the meeting were more concerned with the elephant in the room. UVM students living off campus weren’t taken into consideration.

“These neighbors, we sort of have to reconnect every single year or every six months,” said Ward 1 resident Carol Livingston. “These are the morals of being a good adult neighbor. I love the students, but they need to be factored into your decision-making.”

Additionally, there are no city councilors from Ward 8 currently serving. Despite concerns, those from Ward 8 attending the meeting say adopting this map is a good call.

“We still have a large number of students living in our living units, but I do think it’s a solution that could work for our district,” said Keith Pillsbury.

Most councilors expressed concerns about both maps they were choosing between. Every single Progressive councilor voted against it, saying it doesn’t align with natural boundaries and moves too many students into Ward 6.

“I think we do need a better process, but I’m really supporting this,” said Sarah Carpenter, D-Burlington City Council. “We all got moved some. We all lost something. We all lost a neighborhood we didn’t want to lose and I think that leaves us in a very fair space.”

“We’re not meeting most of the priorities given to us by the initial process,” said Zoraya Hightower, P-Burlington City Council. “Folks asked for small wards, to get rid of Ward 8 as it is, and the word I heard a lot is the gerrymandering.”

With the ward map decided, councilors then took up districting. There was a proposal to remove districts and have two councilors per ward, but that was voted down.

Unless Mayor Weinberger vetoes these decisions, they’ll these changes will be before Burlington voters on Town Meeting Day.

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