Burlington voters to weigh in on 6 charter changes on Town Meeting Day

Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 6:05 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington voters will face a whopping six charter changes on next Tuesday’s Town Meeting Day ballot, more than the Queen City has seen in over a decade. Reporter Katherine Huntley takes a look at the complex questions before voters, ranging from who should discipline police officers to the referendum process itself.

They are two citizen-led referendums on the ballot -- Articles 7 and 8 -- that are widely seen as the most contentious. Article 7 would create an independent community control board made up of non-law enforcement citizens that would investigate and dole out discipline to police officers who have violated department rules. Currently, this power lies solely with the police chief.

Progressive city councilors including Gene Bergman, P-Ward 2, say it will improve transparency and get rid of bad cops.”Would keep due process and the requirement that just cause be found, but do it in a way which, I believe, will lead to greater community trust over the decisions that are made with regard to discipline,” Bergman said.

Mayor Miro Weinberger and Democratic councilors are vehemently opposed. Councilor Ben Traverse, D-Ward 5, says he’s in favor of more police oversight but doesn’t think this is the right approach. “Frankly, I’m unaware of any other municipality in the country that has stood up a community board that is allowed to completely take over and usurp the role of the police chief on matters of police discipline. It completely changes the system we have right now, and I think it goes too far among other areas,” he said.

Article 8, also known as “Proposition Zero,” would give voters the ability to petition for voter referendums, potentially bypassing the City Council. If 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 the voters.

Both Progressives and Democrats say that while the intent to have more citizen input is positive, they think the proposal goes too far. “If voters vote in favor of question 8, it will go to the Legislature and I would encourage the Legislature to put some more guardrails around this,” Traverse said.

‘There can be some more basic items that need to be addressed that are not being addressed by the council that this would allow,” Bergman said.

Article 3 is the city’s once-a-decade redistricting plan. The council opted to keep the system with eight wards and four districts with the biggest boundary changes affecting the East and Central districts.

Article 4 allows all legal residents of the city to vote in local elections, even if they are not U.S. citizens. The City Council voted this down several years ago. But since Winooski and Montpelier have both adopted it, the measure now has broad council support.

Article 5 goes hand-in-hand with redistricting, allowing polling places to be sited in the best, most accessible facility for voters in the ward.

Article 6 would expand ranked choice voting to mayoral, school commissioner, and ward election officer elections.

All six charter changes, if approved, would need legislative approval and the governor’s signature to be approved.