Town Meeting Day

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Latest From Town Meeting Day 2016

Posted By on Tue, Mar 1, 2016 at 6:04 PM

Town Meeting Winds Down

Update 3/2/2016,  11:06 a.m. By the slimmest of margins, chicken proponents prevailed in Barre City. Residents voted against increasing the required setbacks for chicken coops, a step that could have made it close to impossible for many people to raise chickens within city limits. The vote total: 960 against the setbacks; 955 for them. The Times Argus reported that selectboard member John LePage spent 12 hours outside the polls campaigning on behalf of poultry.
10:38 p.m. Town Meeting Day results are still trickling in but most of the big ticket items have been reported.

In Burlington, voters expressed support for the North Avenue pilot project planned for this spring. By a margin of roughly 2,000, they voted against keeping one section of the street four lanes. However, the results suggest that city officials  still need to overcome skepticism in the New North End, where the majority voted to keep the four lanes.

The Burlington school budget won wide approval. Rutland City voters rejected an attempt to remove fluoride from the drinking water. Vernon residents expressed strong support for the potential arrival of a natural gas plant. At least two towns — Montpelier and Hartford — approved a local options tax; Barre City shot it down. Sill no word on the fate of Barre City chickens. A handful of towns have approved school district mergers as part of Act 46.

Burlington Backs North Ave Pilot

9:51 p.m. Burlington voters have rejected an effort to stop the North Avenue pilot project. A question on the city ballot asked residents whether they wanted one section of the street to remain four lanes — voting yes would signal opposition to the project, which will reduce North Avenue to three lanes, while adding two bike lanes. Residents voted 6,932 to 4,998 against the question.

But the two New North End wards that will be most affected voted yes. In Ward 4, it was approved 1,288 to 1,021. The margin was larger in Ward 7, where it was approved 1,197 to 765.

Reiterating his support for the project, the Mayor Miro Weinberger said that the results "indicate strong interest throughout the city for improving North Avenue." But he also noted, "I am concerned that so many New North Enders have reservations." Weinberger said he hopes they will reserve forming a final opinion until after the road configuration has been tested. 

A $84 million school budget won wide support in Burlington; it passed 8,303 to 3,672. The budget is 2 percent higher than last year, but the increase wasn’t large enough to trigger the financial penalties passed as part of Act 46.

Speaking of Act 46, another merger has been approved: The towns of Clarendon, Shrewsbury, Tinmouth and Wallingford, which make up the Rutland South Supervisory Union, voted to combine their school boards, according to Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association.

Montpelier and Hartford both approved local options taxes, in contrast to Barre City, which rejected one.

Vernon Votes for Natural Gas Plant

8:49 p.m. Still reeling from the closure of Vermont Yankee, Vernon voters appear eager to bring a different kind of power plant to town. Vermont Public Radio is reporting that residents voted 677 to 153 to support a natural gas plant proposed by local investment banker Don Campbell. The project must clear multiple hurdles, but Tuesday’s vote will likely encourage Campbell to continue to pursue his plan. If he pulls it off, the $750 million project could re-energize the local economy.

Meanwhile, up north, all three districts in the Franklin Central Supervisory Union have voted to merge their school boards, according to Northwest Access TV. The districts are Fairfield, St. Albans City and St. Albans Town.

Rutland City Votes for Fluoride; Barre City Rejects New Tax

8:00 p.m. Fluoridation prevailed by a healthy margin in Rutland City, according to the Rutland Herald. Sixty percent of residents voted to continue adding it to the city water supply to prevent tooth decay. Anti-fluoride activists mounted a feisty campaign, accusing local officials of “drugging” residents, but they failed to garner a majority.

Vermont Public Radio is reporting that Barre City voters have turned down the proposal to levy a local options tax.

Channel 17 is reporting that Winooski passed its school budget.

X Chromosomes Make Comeback in Pomfret; Londonderry Hires Law Enforcement

7:30 p.m. The Valley News is reporting that for the first time in 40 years, a woman has been elected to the Pomfret selectboard — actually, two women.

Like many small Vermont towns, Londonderry doesn’t have its own police force. But at Town Meeting, residents concerned about drug addiction-fueled crime approved an $86,000 contract with the Vermont State Police. Read the story on
Out of a sense of journalistic duty, Seven Days will have reporters in the field documenting Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) homecoming and some event called Super Tuesday.

But we know the questions that are really keeping readers on the edge of their seats: Will  Barre City embrace or shun chickens? Will Rutland City buck the medical establishment by voting to remove fluoride from its drinking water? Will Burlington residents reject a contentious pilot project for one of the city's thoroughfares?  Town Meeting Day business may play second fiddle to Sanders mania, but plenty of important local items are up for a vote. A number of towns will decide whether to combine their school boards into a single board in response to Act 46. Officials in Montpelier, Ludlow, Hartford and Barre City are hoping residents get behind a local options tax.  We'll be posting results as they trickle in. We'll also have a live stream from Channel 17 featuring interviews and analysis.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Burlington Political Parties Weigh In on North Avenue Debate

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2016 at 12:39 PM

  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • North Avenue
This story was updated 2/25/2016 at 4:15 p.m. to include information about a campaign finance complaint, and  2/26/2016 at 11:42 a.m. to include a response from Better Streets for Burlington.

Road projects don’t typically become partisan affairs, but the debate over Burlington's North Avenue pilot project is anything but ordinary.

For months, residents have been arguing about whether the city should experiment with a new lane configuration on a busy section of the main thoroughfare that links the New North End to the rest of Burlington.

The city council unanimously approved the plan to turn a four-lane section into three lanes with two bike lanes. But in response to a petition signed by more than 1,500 residents, it also agreed to put a question on the Town Meeting ballot, asking residents whether the road should remain four lanes. A "no" vote will be interpreted as supportive of the pilot project.

Continue reading »

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Friday, January 22, 2016

North Ave Ballot Question Puts City Officials in Sticky Situation

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2016 at 5:22 PM

Karen Rowell dropped off her petition at City Hall last week. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Karen Rowell dropped off her petition at City Hall last week.
Next Monday, Burlington city councilors will need to make an uncomfortable choice — ignore a request from roughly 5 percent of voters or risk turning over decisions about city infrastructure to public opinion.

Karen Rowell successfully collected the necessary signatures to put the following question on Burlington's Town Meeting Day ballot: "Shall the city of Burlington keep four vehicular lanes on North Ave.?" The goal: Prove to public officials that the majority of New North End residents oppose a pilot project, scheduled for this Spring, that would temporarily reduce a four-lane stretch of road to three lanes, plus two bike lanes. 

But the city attorney ruled that the question was too vague. Since it's too late for Rowell to circulate another petition, the city council will need to decide whether to put forward a rephrased version of the same question, in deference to the people who signed the original one. 

Kurt Wright, a Republican who represents the New North End, plans to put forward a resolution that would do just that at next Monday's council meeting. The question would be advisory, not binding.

But here's the quandary: If the council votes to put Wright's question on the ballot — and if a majority of residents in the most-affected neighborhood strongly oppose the pilot project — the council and the administration will be under significant pressure to scrap a project they've already approved, unanimously.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Burlington Candidates Disclose Fundraising Totals

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 4:34 PM

Campaign signs outside a polling station - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Campaign signs outside a polling station
No other candidate came close to raising as much money as Mayor Miro Weinberger leading up to the March 3 election. Still, several Burlington City Council candidates raked in large amounts of money for their races.

Candidates and parties submitted their campaign finance disclosure reports with the Vermont Secretary of State Tuesday.

The highest roller — incumbent Democrat Weinberger — brought in $109,172 and handily won the mayor's race with nearly 70 percent of the vote.

Despite being in a less-competitive race, the mayor matched the fundraising prowess he exhibited during his first campaign in 2012. Recent contributors include restaurateur and Green Mountain Care Board chair Al Gobeille ($500) and his wife, Kim Gobeille ($500); Paul Lekstutis, a consultant in renewable energy ($1,000); and Charlotte Ancel, general counsel for Green Mountain Power ($500). The mayor has spent $95,484.

Weinberger's challengers trailed him on fundraising from start to finish. Progressive Steve Goodkind, who got 22 percent of the vote, took in $10,870 and spent $11,120. Independent Greg Guma (6.6 percent of the vote) collected $14,540 and Libertarian Loyal Ploof (2 percent) raised $530, $500 of which came from the Vermont Libertarian Party.  

In the Ward 3 city council race, Democrat Sarah McCall drew $8,756 in an unsuccessful race against Progressive Sara Giannoni, who raised only $3,063. Both were first-time candidates.  

Continue reading »

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Burlington Democrats Likely to Lose City Council Presidency

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 3:34 PM

Jane Knodell addresses a gathering of Progressives on Town Meeting Day at Magnolia Bistro. - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Jane Knodell addresses a gathering of Progressives on Town Meeting Day at Magnolia Bistro.
Non-Democrats now hold sway on the Burlington City Council, and that means they'll likely pick the next council president.

Councilor Joan Shannon, a Democrat, has played that role since 2012. But her party lost council seats on Town Meeting Day. On the new council, Democrats will occupy five of 12 seats.

Councilors on the other side of the aisle are angling to replace her. Four Progressives and two Progressive-affiliated councilors won seats last Tuesday. Republican Councilor Kurt Wright plans to side with the non-Ds on this vote.

The most likely pick: Progressive Councilor Jane Knodell, who's served as council president in the past.

"I am considering it," Knodell said in an interview Wednesday. Knodell, an economics professor at the University of Vermont, said she's assessing whether she has enough time to take on the role, and is having conversations with her fellow non-Democrats. She also noted, "I'm not the only person considering it among the non-D side of the table."

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Moody's Upgrades Burlington's Credit Rating

Posted By on Wed, Mar 4, 2015 at 1:12 PM

Mayor Miro Weinberger at the polls Tuesday - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger at the polls Tuesday
It's been a pretty good 24 hours for Mayor Miro Weinberger. Last night, he was standing in front of a crowd of ecstatic Democrats, reveling in his definitive ride to a second term. This morning, he announced that Moody's Investors Service has upgraded Burlington's credit rating.

Burlington's rating began to slip in July 2010, and this marks the first time it's been upgraded since. It's also the first time in 10 years that the city has been given a positive rating outlook.

The upgrade, which allows the city to borrow at lower interest rates, is a crowning achievement for the mayor. He made financial cleanup the cornerstone of his first term and touted his accomplishment throughout the campaign. In a statement, Weinberger said, "While we still have a lot of hard work left to fully restore the city’s financial standing, today’s upgrade represents meaningful progress. I can’t think of a better way to start the next three years.”

Among the positive developments that Moody's cited when explaining its decision: the resolution of the Burlington Telecom lawsuit brought by Citibank; the $9 million fiscal stability bond that voters approved in March 2013 to refinance the city's debt; and the clean 2014 audit. 

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Landslide: Weinberger Trounces Challengers to Win a Second Term

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 10:06 PM

Miro Weinberger shortly after winning a second term - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Miro Weinberger shortly after winning a second term
Miro Weinberger handily won a second term as mayor of Burlington with roughly 68 percent of the vote.

The Democrat defeated three opponents. Progressive Steve Goodkind got 22 percent of the vote, independent Greg Guma had 6.6 percent and Libertarian Loyal Ploof trailed with 2 percent, according to unofficial results. 

Weinberger strode onto the stage at Nectar’s and delivered an exuberant victory speech under the green and red glow of spotlights. Practically yelling into the microphone, he began, “Today the engaged people of Burlington have sent a strong message that we are on the right path.”

The mayor, who ran on the campaign slogan “Moving Forward,” pledged to make Burlington more affordable, walkable, "bikeable" and livable.

Afterwards, during an interview with reporters, Weinberger said, “What I commit to people is we’ll bring the same thoughtful, careful, deliberate, focused approach to these challenges as we brought to the challenges of last three years.”

Continue reading »

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Burlington Voters Approve School Budget

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 8:53 PM

Burlington voters overwhelmingly approved a $68.6 million school budget for Fiscal Year 2016. 

The budget, which passed 4,774-2,459, represents a 1.75 percent increase in spending over last year — a much more modest uptick than voters have seen in recent years.

That will equate to an estimated 2.35 percent tax increase for Burlington residents. 

The smooth outcome this year stands in stark contrast to Town Meeting Day 2014, when voters soundly rejected the school budget. (They later ended up approving a higher budget after the school board discovered a deficit that needed to be remedied.)

The board is concluding a rocky year in which it wrestled with multiple fiscal challenges and turnover in the district’s leadership. Tuesday’s vote could be considered a vote of confidence in its members, who have repeatedly pledged to rein in spending and improve their stewardship of the budget.

Two school board incumbents lost their seats.

Scott Shumski was tossed off the board, losing to Mark Barlow, 1,355-1,566.

Incumbent Brian Cina retained his seat, besting fellow incumbent Charlie Giannoni 613-530, and incumbent David Kirk narrowly held onto his seat, beating Helen Hossley 675-626.

In Ward 4, Anne Judson bested Arthur Vento 966-426 to claim an open seat on the board.

Correction 3/5/2015: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of incumbent school board members who lost their seats. 

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Burlington Rejects Voting, City Service By Non-Citizens

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 8:41 PM

  • Sue Norton
Burlington voters today rejected a ballot measure to give non-citizens the right to vote in local elections.

Pushed by several Progressive city councilors, the idea slowly gained steam last year in city hall. The mayor and most other city councilors gradually went from skeptical to supportive.

But they failed to win over Burlington voters: The measure failed 58 percent to 42 percent.

Burlington voters also rejected by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent a change that would have allowed non-citizens to serve as department heads and on city boards. 

Leading up to Town Meeting Day, outspoken critics made their opposition known during spirited Front Porch Forum debates and at neighborhood planning assembly meetings. Some worried that the measure would dilute the value of citizenship.

Even if the voting initiative had passed, it was unlikely non-citizens would have made it to the polls anytime soon. The Vermont legislature would have needed to sign off on the proposal, and supporters acknowledged that it could have been a tough sell in the state capitol. 

The initiative that would have allowed non-citizens to serve as department heads or city officials would not have required legislative approval.

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Winooski Voters Approve Joining Suit to Oppose F-35

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 7:29 PM

Winooski voters today approved a referendum article opposing the Pentagon's decision to base F-35 fighter jets at nearby Burlington International Airport in 2020.

By a 572-475 vote, residents backed the non-binding referendum, which asked whether the city should join a lawsuit in which anti-F-35 activists are seeking to prevent the planes from coming to Vermont.

The plaintiffs, who include four Winooski residents, claim the military failed to perform required environmental reviews before deciding to place the jets in Burlington. Activists had fought for years to block the planes, citing the noise levels caused by their takeoffs and landings. The F-35 noise zone will affect 6,600 local residents, including many in the Onion City.

The article was strictly advisory. The city council has the authority to compel the city to join the ongoing litigation, which is being heard in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

No other communities are parties in the lawsuit, which is still in its early stages and could take years to resolve. James Dumont, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, told Seven Days last month that he hoped Winooski would sign up. Dumont said he would not necessarily seek to have the city make a financial contribution to the case.

Seth Leonard, who won the mayor's race, said of the referendum, "Now, we go back and do our legal homework."

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