City attorneys raise red flags over Burlington referendum proposal

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 6:22 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 21, 2023 at 7:13 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Town Meeting Day is two weeks away and lawyers with the city of Burlington say one ballot measure has some serious issues. Proposition Zero would give voters the ability to petition for voter referendums, potentially bypassing the City Council.

If Proposition Zero is approved, it would take five percent of the city’s voters to bring a petition for a proposed referendum before the City Council to either approve or deny. If the council approves, the referendum would pass. If the council denies it, the referendum would then go to voters.

Bert Johnson, a political science professor at Middlebury College, says the biggest potential issue is what happens if the council approves and the mayor issues a veto. “That is unclear how Prop Zero would handle that and that, I think, is a significant issue,” he said. The mayor currently has veto power for ordinances, which can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the council.

If Burlington voters approve Prop Zero, the Legislature must first sign off on the charter change. ‘We usually try to do what the voters were intending and try to find a path to that. And we will certainly hear what the folks from the city of Burlington and the folks supporting the charter change have to say in the committee and make the best reconciliation between the existing charter and the proposal that we can,” said Rep. Mike McCarthy, D-St. Albans, who sits on the House Committee on Government Operations, a key committee that would look at the charter change.

Johnson says the Legislature often has qualms with charter changes, including a proposed Burlington gun ban that died in committee.

Lawyers for the city issued a memo to be discussed at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. It outlines concerns about procedural issues the charter change would raise.

“There is a concern of putting forward things that aren’t properly vetted beforehand. So, yes, I think if there were other things that are brought forward that haven’t had the chance to have the full process that is set up, then yes, there would be consistently some of these types of concerns,” said acting city attorney Kim Sturtevant.

Related Stories:

Petition seeks to allow Burlington residents to bring issues directly to voters

Straight to the ballot? New push get issues in front of Burlington voters faster