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March 12, 2009

Cops Called to City Council Meeting: Updated With Video

Who knew that debating zoning changes and the maximum building height in Burlington could be a spectator sport?

Or, that Roberts Rules of Order can be enforced by the police?

About 50 people were inside Contois Auditorium tonight to hear The Burlington City Council debate a host of issues related to downtown development and on-campus housing and development at the University of Vermont and Champlain College.

Three Burlington City police officers were called to Contois Auditorium after a testy exchange between two Democratic city councilors — David Berezniak (Ward 2) and Ed Adrian (Ward 1) — and Republican City Council President Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) threatened to put a halt to yet another evening of debate on several major issues.

Councilors Berezniak and Adrian made repeated requests for "points of order" and "points of information" which angered Wright and clearly frustrated other councilors. Wright and others were convinced the Democrats were pulling procedural stunts to derail discussion on whether to publicly warn a hearing on changes to the city's zoning rules.

Those new rules would allow commercial buildings to top 127 feet and residential buildings to top 105 feet, an increase opposed by Democrats. At Monday night's regularly scheduled council meeting, the panel's five Democrats refused to agree to "suspend the rules" and allow the meeting to go past 10:30 p.m. Going into tonight's meeting, many councilors believed the Democrats would continue to do whatever it took to derail the plan as they didn't have the votes to outright reject the measure.

"You are not going to continue with this," said Wright to Berezniak and Adrian after roughly 10 minutes of back and forth between Adrian, Berezniak, Wright and City Attorney Ken Schatz. At times, Democrats cut off speakers with requests before being called upon by Wright (as is customary).

"No councilor is simply going to speak into the microphone without being called on," Wright chastized the Dems at one point. "You will not speak until recognized ... have some respect for the system."

Wright then asked Councilor Jane Knodell (P-Ward 2) to outline the zoning change, and an amendment she hoped would assuage Democratic concerns that the building heights were too high. 

Still, Democrats raised continuous objections and questions about the way in which the vote was being held, whether the night's agenda was proper, and if it was even valid motion. As tensions began to rise, Wright called for a five-minute recess.

At that time, Wright then called city police to Contois Auditorium. Within 15 minutes, two uniformed police officers were standing at the back of the room. Within a half hour a third officer was onhand.

Officers stayed in City Hall for about an hour while debate on the zoning amendment ensued.

After debate ended on the zoning amendment, Adrian asked of Wright, "Why are the cops here?"

Wright said, "We are going to continue this meeting, and if we continue to have disruptions the people making the disruptions will be removed."

Yikes. Now I know why Republicans are the party of law and order.

Actually, according to Robert's Rules of Order a governing body can eject someone from a meeting. Here's the section in its entirety:

73. Right of an Assembly to Eject any one from its Place of Meeting. Every deliberative assembly has the right to decide who may be present during its session; and when the assembly, either by a rule or by a vote, decides that a certain person shall not remain in the room, it is the duty of the chairman to enforce the rule of order, using whatever force is necessary to eject the party.

However, it appears as if there is nothing in Robert's Rules that allows a presiding officer to potentially have an elected official removed without an investigation and trial by the entire voting body.

"Kurt called them in as a scare tactic to limit councilor debate. Only the council can remove a fellow councilor by a two-thirds vote under Robert's Rules," Adrian noted.

After about an hour of debate, the city council did agree — by a 10 to 3 vote — to increase building height for commercial buildings to nine stories, or 115 feet, and for residential buildings to eight stories, or 99 feet. This is a lower height than originally proposed, which was 106 feet for residential and 127 feet for commercial. A public hearing on the zoning change will be held at the March 30 city council meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Adrian questioned Wright's move to call police to the auditorium.

"I for one find it discouraging Mr. president that you called the police here," said Adrian. "There is a procedure under Robert's Rules [to expel members]." Having police in attendance was used to "basically intimidate councilors."

City Attorney Ken Schatz told councilors that making a point of order, per se, was not a disruption, but he did say it was within the presiding officer's authority to preserve order. He also said there is a process for council members to challenge the ruling of a presiding officer.

In other words, tempers may have gotten the best of everyone.

After the meeting, Wright told Seven Days that called the police to the meeting because he believed it possible the meeting would devolve into procedural maneuvers rather than open debate. "It was really my nuclear option, and I was hoping I would never have to use that option at all, and I'm glad we didn't have to," he said. "But, I wanted to make sure that we were going to have a debate tonight."

Something tells me tonight's debate is just the beginning of a whole new debate on the city council.


The fur is still flying from last night's raucous Burlington City Council meeting. This morning Ward 1 Councilor Ed Adrian — one of two councilors allegedly targeted for possible removal by police — circulated a copy of the police report from one of the officers called to Contois last night. And what does it say? That the police were there to help Council President Kurt Wright haul away councilors if necessary.

Wright denies he would have removed a councilor for making "parliamentary maneuvers" but says he would have removed one for disrupting the meeting.

Here, in its entirety, is Lt. Emmett Helrich's incident report (I've confirmed the veracity of this report with Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling):

"City Council President Kurt Wright called to say that he would like police presence as there had been some disruptive behavior on the part of some in attendance prior to the break. Cpl. Edwards and I went to Contois. Wright told me that Councilors Adrian and Bresniak [sp] had been disrupting the council meeting to the point that he might be compelled, as a point of order, to have them removed from Contois. Some in attendance had said that it had been quite disruptive prior to our arrival. Nothing happened after we got there and remained orderly until after the proposed amendment in question had been voted on. (raising the height of buildings in the city) At one point Councilor Adrian asked President Wright why the police were there and Wright told him he had called for police in case the members continued to be disruptive.

"After the vote we left as it was clear our presence was not needed."

Adrian said he was circulating the incident report to show that Wright called the police for no other reason than "to remove councilors that he thought were disruptive ... in particular myself and Councilor Berezniak."

Adrian reasserted his belief that Wright was "manipulating the police to intimidate city councilors from speaking and asserting their parliamentary rights."

This morning, Wright again expressed disagreement that his actions were out of line. Rather, he said, it was Adrian and Berezniak who were being disruptive and obstructing the council from doing its business.

"Ed or any other councilor would not have been removed for 'parliamentary maneuvers,' but if they had insisted on continuing to disrupt the meeting so that we couldn't carry on our business, then possibly," said Wright. "It was about preventing a disruption I had been warned might happen."

It's increasingly clear that the the "disruptions" last night irked many councilors — or at least those who are not Democrats.

At the end of the meeting, Councilor Tim Ashe (P-Ward 3) said he had never seen councilors so out of control, disrespectful of the institution itself and disorderly. He was talking about Adrian and Berezniak — not Wright. Other councilors echoed Ashe's sentiments after the meeting broke up.

Outgoing Councilor Jane Knodell (P-Ward 2), who was interrupted several times by Councilors Adrian and Berezniak, said she had never seen such antics at a council meeting.

"In my 14 years on the council, I've never seen such an unprofessional and disrespectful display," said Knodell. "The whole meeting was breaking down, no one knew what they would try to do next, and I think that the council president did the right thing by asking for [police] presence. To say that this was 'intimidating' or that it stifled debate is absurd. Let's be very clear: They didn't have the votes, so they tried to shut down our democratic process. End of story."

As I noted last night, I think this is very, very far from "end of story."


Have the comments here whetted your appetite for more? Well, Channel 17 taped the controversial meeting Thursday night, and the recording is now available to view on their website, right here.

As you review the video, consider this complaint filed yesterday by Councilor David Berezniak (D-Ward 2), who is one of the councilors named in the police report as a source of the "disruptions" detailed by Council President Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4).

At the end of the meeting, City Attorney Ken Schatz was asked if calling the police was an appropriate way to keep order. (See the original post above for a summary of Schatz's response.)

Here is Berezniak's complaint, in its entirety:

Mr. Schatz,

I am formalizing the complaint I expressed to you at last night's 3/12/09 "special" City Council meeting.  As I stated to you, I was intimidated from participating in the debate of the issues after being informed that Council President Wright determined questions on points of order would be considered "disruptive" and further undefined "disruptions" would be dealt with by physical removal by the Burlington police. Under these threats my only recourse as an elected representative of our city with a responsibility to be present was to remain silent, thus depriving my constituents of their voice on the issues.  In my mind this raises questions about all that occurred at last night's meeting after the recess. Your advice on this serious matter is very much appreciated.

David J.  Berezniak
City Councilor,  ward 2

Ed Adrian should be removed from the city council -- by the voters of ward one. He's turned out to be the most destructive and negative force on the council since Ion Laskaris.

Bringing in the police was completely out of line. I was appalled. I look forward to the next City Council taking office.

Excellent reporting Shay!

The story is relevant. It's important. You told it clearly. You were fair to all sides. You dug into the background.

This is really good stuff. There isn't enough of this kind of reporting in our world anymore!

Thanks and keep it up!

Bringing the police in made sense, given the outrageous actions of a few Dems. Those few Dems are an embarassment to the Democratic Party and the City Council.

If the new Dems on the next city council are more thoughtful, independent, and not in the pockets of NIMBYs, then I too look forward to the new council. If the new Dems join the clique that's currently trying to run things, Burlington is in trouble.

My outrage at the use of police isn't related to any particular party or point of view on Zoning. It comes from seeing an elected official use the threat of police to stifle other elected officials. This can't be legal and it sure is wrong in this country.
As for the new City Council, it will contain 5 new members of two, possibly three political parties. The present Council is tired and locked into old patterns. I welcome the new group.
Finally, I will not be posting more on this subject. Just note that at least I post using my own name.

Good article Shay! Sounds like quite an evening!

I was appalled last night. My own party acted out so poorly that I had to turn the TV news off. Shame on Adrian and Brezniak.

What was needed last night was leadership and a consensus. I thought Knodell's proposal was perfectly reasonable. The Democrats could have simply voted against it and showed their opposition that way instead of trying to road block everything. If I had been a Councilor last night, then I would have voted with the Republican/Progressive/Independent group. They did the right thing last night. I would like to point out that Russ Ellis did vote for Knodell's amendment and he should be commended for that. He had the guts to breech the Democratic caucus.

Someone needs to run against Adrian.

Hmm... No surprises here. Democrats with little respect for the rules, unless they can benefit them, and a council president ill-fitted for the job. Good thing he wasn't elected mayor, huh?

I had to do this once when I was chairing a Green Party statewide meeting. But the difference is the whackos (like Steve Ekberg aka Sign Man) that showed up to derail Green Party meetings weren't *elected officials* for a constituency that being would be potentially denied their its legal input by an intimidated council president.

Adrian in particular was a very disruptiove force at Thursday's meeting. Berezniak seems to want to follow on his coattails.
Adrian's behavior is good reason to not ever consider him if he decides for a mayoral run. He showed a lack of respect for the system and more importantly a lack of respect for his fellow councilors, constituents and and all of Burlington.
Pres. Wright did the correct thing to make sure overall order was kept. Adrian seemed to be the one that wanted to use the intimidation tactic.

Thank you, Dale. Mr. Montefusco, the police were not called to stifle debate; Adrian and his cohorts were doing all they could to stifle and disrupt legitimate debate. Mr. Chevrier, I don't believe that Wright was intimidated, disgusted and impatient with the Dem antics, but not intimidated; he did the right thing in calling the police. The meeting moved on, debate continued civilly, and a compromise was reached.

I actually think that both Kurt(by calling the police) and "the Dems" (sounds like a band name) were out of line. I think that Adrian saying after that he was aware the nuances of the the Roberts Rules shows he knew he was drawing a very thin line and neither Kurt or any republican for that matter has ever been concerned about nuance. Ultimately I think they both disregarded the system and were just inflating egos instead of conducting the peoples business...Thank god for Jane Knodell and the other 75% of the council. It is ironic that the Dems are setting themselves up to be in the minority on the council even before they have achieved majority status...

"The whole meeting was breaking down, no one knew what they would try to do next, and I think that the council president did the right thing by asking for [police] presence. To say that this was 'intimidating' or that it stifled debate is absurd. Let's be very clear: They didn't have the votes, so they tried to shut down our democratic process. End of story."

Thank you, Jane, for hanging in there through the onslaught.

As President of the City Council I could not let two City Councilors totally disrupt the meeting. I might add that Jane Knodell agrees. I had no choice but to have a police presence there in case this behavior continued--otherwise those two Councilors could have literally shut down the meeting. I told Joan Shannon as we came back from the recess that they could call for any point of order they wanted--but that they could not continue to disrupt the meeting. I was supporting Jane Knodell's compromise proposal and was also setting up a public forum for March 23rd--we were reaching out our hand to compromise only to have it bitten. Kurt Wright

Calling the police was out of line. Something akin to those birds who puff up in an effort to suggest they could hurt you, but then they run away scared. Police don't have the legal ability to enforce the rules of a parliamentary procedure. The proper order of actions would be to vote about having either disruptive member kicked out of the meeting. Then, if they still would not leave, you could argue police involvement *might* be necessary. Might. Cart before the horse, Kurt...but I guess that's the norm, right?

Who cares if Jane Knodell agrees and good for the Dems for standing up. I'm sorry I missed this meeting..sounds like it was quiet something to see.

Good for the Dems for what?! Trying to stifle democratic debate? Being obnoxious as they did so? Siding consistently with NIMBYs? Supporting those downtown who live in penthouses or new developments that blocked others' views? Voting against affordable housing over the years? Forgetting the basic principles of their own party? Embarassing other Dems across the state by their antics?

After reviewing the police report and some video, it is clear that Kurt was completely out of line. Councilors Adrian and Berezniak were attempting to be recognized, but Kurt, contrary to the rules, simply ignored them. What a shameful display of bullying. Thank goodness Kurt will be gone for good, along with his girlfriend Jane Knodell.

Dell are you serious? I have not seen any video yet.

Some a-hole is posing as me. "After reviewing the police report" is someone else.

Sitting in the audience last night with three police officers behind me, I was appalled that they were called.

Yes, the meeting was out of control. On both sides. From the late start because some council members weren't there on time, to the confusion over the agenda, it was a mess from the get-go.

I had a copy of the special agenda in hand, and it was not the same agenda as the meeting started. It did not even seem that President Wright had a copy of the special agenda in his possession. I thought it was valid for the councilors to ask for clarification on it. I still don't know which agenda was followed. It seemed to go back and forth.

I can't even imagine being in the shoes of the councilors who had to look at the police while they were conducting business. I kept wondering if their presence was impacting the comments of the councilors.

Having the recess to discuss matters was appropriate. Pulling out a cell phone and calling police wasn't.

What information did Ed and David need from the Prez? Is there some reason Kurt wouldn't answer their request for information?

Those weren't requests for information. They constituted repeated interruptions of other councilors (one of whom was attempting to propose a compromise, which ultimately passed). They amounted to obvious delaying tactics. Adrian had warned others ahead of the meeting that he would take this approach. It's probably a good idea that the police were called -- for Adrian's safety -- as I imagine many councilors wanted to strangle him!

The video is here:

Jess - thanks for posting the link! Hadn't had a chance to get to it this morning.

As you review the video, consider this complaint filed yesterday by Councilor David Berezniak (D-Ward 2), who is one of the councilors named in the police report as being a source of the "disruptions" that Council President Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) to call the police to Contois.

At the end of the meeting, City Attorney Ken Schatz was asked if calling the police was an appropriate way to keep order. See the original post above for a summary of Schatz's response.

Here is Berezniak's complaint, in its entirety:

Mr. Schatz,

I am formalizing the complaint I expressed to you at last night's 3/12/09 "special" City Council meeting. As I stated to you, I was intimidated from participating in the debate of the issues after being informed that Council President Wright determined questions on points of order would be considered "disruptive" and further undefined "disruptions" would be dealt with by physical removal by the Burlington police. Under these threats my only recourse as an elected representative of our city with a responsibility to be present was to remain silent, thus depriving my constituents of their voice on the issues. In my mind this raises questions about all that occurred at last night's meeting after the recess. Your advice on this serious matter is very much appreciated.

David J. Berezniak
City Councilor, ward 2

For additional debate about this topic, hop over to Green Mountain Daily and read a post by Jack McCullough:

I would presume that Mr. Brezniak does not support a police presence in our school systems, as this must be so intimidating to the children.
One also has to wonder what is in Mr. Brezniak's past that makes him that intimidated by the police.

Ed Adrian could very probably be the next City Council President. No?

everyone needs to remember the most important thing here: That we needed to conduct the meeting and vote on important issues that the University of Vermont, Champlain College, Councilors and many others had worked on for a very long time. How disrespectful to those Institutions to have them come back to yet another City Council meeting and not move forward one way or another on their issues. The Police were only going to be used if the two Councilors literally would not allow us to conduct the meeting. No matter how you feel on the particular issue in question, the minority should not be able to thwart the will of the Majority. These two Councilors were not intimidated--I had passed the word on to them during the recess that they could make points of order--but that they had to be respectful and not try and disrupt the meeting. When they realized they were not going to win on the points of order they decided to switch gears,not talk anymore, then claim they were stifled. Now they are filing complaints etc. to divert attention from their own disrespectful conduct. What is so disappointing--and really stunning to me-- is the lengths they have been willing to go on this, even as we were trying to compromise with them. I never would have believed I would need a police officer in the room (just in case they tried to shut down the meeting) but never have I witnessed the type of behavior I saw that night. Sharon Bushor has been on the Council for nearly a quarter of a century and felt she had seen it all, but said she has never seen anything like this. I will ask the Democrats on the Council again, as I have before each of the previous two meetings--please stop this and lets get back to working together.
Kurt Wright

Kurt, you are a silly, scared little man. Your abuse of power is parallel to George Bush's travesty of leadership and your refusal to admit you are wrong is a fitting emulation of that slow-witted ideologue (you can find that word in the dictionary, if you have one). Good riddance to you and your nasty friends on the Council. Grow up, you bully.

I just watched the video on Channel 17 and my take is that the BPD should NOT have been called. I believe that was way out of line. I do think councilors Adrian and Berezniak were being a bit over-the-top but after reading all these comments and the Free Press story I was expecting far worse. It really wasn't that bad. I think if Kurt Wright was more patient with them the meeting would have went a lot smoother. I know Kurt was probably tired after the mayoral campaign and the recount so I can understand how he would be frustrated, but, in the end, having the police there to possibly remove "elected officials" sets a precedent that concerns me more than I can express in words...

I couldn't agree more. After hearing rumors and reading headlines, I was expecting much worse behavior to have precipitated the calling of the police. Now, I have read several accounts and have watched the video, and I feel that it was inappropriate and unnecessary to have called the police. I feel that Wright could have used other means that were less intimidating to quell the disruptions. That being said, I feel that Berezniak and Adrian were acting a bit out of line, and if I had been there, I would have felt frustrated that the debate was continually being interrupted. However, I would never have imagined that the police were necessary to maintain order at a city council meeting. It seems to indicate ineffectual leadership on the part of President Wright.

After watching the video and reading several accounts, the response to this situation absolutely baffled me. I was expecting Councilors Adrian and Berezniak to be incredibly out of line and disruptive, to the point where the entire meeting had devolved. In the end, it really couldn't have been further from the case. It's obvious that they're questions were meant slightly to delay, but when there appeared to be plenty of confusion over how the meeting was running in the first place, it left a place for them to get away with it. For the police to be brought in for that I find incredibly troubling. President Wright was in a difficult place to conduct this important of a meeting already, given that elections have passed, but the situation was exacerbated by his poor display of leadership.

The immature conduct of Councilors Adrian & Brezniak went beyond delaying... You simply DON'T speak without being recognized by the chair. And you NEVER EVER interrupt another councilor. If this weren't a city council meeting with rules of conduct, written and unwritten, this wouldn't be a big deal.

In the context of this meeting the behavior represented an incredibly out-of-line, obstructionist, and disruptive attitude. That's why the reaction has been so intense.

In my view, all three councilors (Kurt Wright, Ed Adrian, and David Brezniak) in question were completely disrespectful to the process, democracy and their fellow councilors.

This was an all-around embarrassing night for Burlington.

Who cares if the police where brought in. In my mind David Brezniak is a sissy. What did he think, the police were going to beat him with their sticks while tazering him should he speak on the issue.

Brezniak and Adrian should get over it. They had nothing to hide from the police so they shouldn't have been afraid. Each should have realized that should they had actually been removed from the meeting they would have something to complain about. Until then they should stop complaining about not having the balls to speak their mind. Ward 2 should be embarrassed by their representation not doing its job.

"MacEntyre"? Really? Did you come to Burlington from Scotland by way of Ecuador? Go back to your bong, Ivan.

Let's keep it civil, guys.

Dear BF,

what a terrific contribution you've made to the discussion here!

Regrettably, I don't own a 'Bong'. My birthday is coming up. You should buy me one. That way you can legitimately say 'go back to your bong' whenever I post something you don't like on the internet. Everybody wins.

I'd prefer one of these: PHX Waterpipes (a triple-percolated model would be ideal)

P.S. I don't smoke pot, why are we inferring otherwise?

Oh come on Ivan admit you smoke. I personally smoke marijuana on occasion when I have trouble sleeping or when I'm stressed and it's certainly better than any pharmaceutical and with less side effects, i.e. the benefits of a natural herb.

Anyway, back on the topic at hand. I hope there is a response to David Berezniak's formal complaint relatively soon from City Attorney Ken Schatz. I also hope that response is made public.

Having been present at enough contentious meetings that were ostensibly under the governance of parliamentary procedures, I know from experience that:

A: a point of order can indeed interrupt a speaking member and does not need the recognition of the chair if there has been a breach of rules that warrants it. The chair can overrule these points.

B: the chair (president) has a LOT of leeway as far as setting the tone and pace of the meeting.

C: such leeway in no way includes the power to remove other members by force without at least a vote of the members. Had Councilor Wright acted on his threat, he would certainly have been breaking the law (unless there's some special Burlington rule that allows for this). Whether or not the presence of the police officers constituted an intimidation of the councilors in question... I have no idea.

I think it's a dangerous game Wright was playing. I actually wonder what the police officers would have done if he had told them to remove councilors! What are the officers' marching orders in a situation like that?

Bill, I wasn't aware of point A, that's really important, and makes one a little less adamant in saying Adrian & Berzniak were totally out-of-line... Still, I tend to believe the council president would have recognized them if they had raised their hands as is the common courtesy. If not they could have gone ahead and interrupted and it would have been justifiable. As it was they just seemed to be trying to disrupt the process not make legit clarifications.

I don't think Kurt would have had the guts to ask the cops to use force... Generally, when the police are given an unlawful order by someone above them on the socio-economic hierarchy they do it and "let the courts work it out" even if they know it's BS. There's never any accountability if they can say they're acting in 'good faith'.

A little story: A few years ago I was evicted without due process, I was locked out before I was done moving. Unwisely, but lawfully, I broke in to get the last of my possessions. Shortly thereafter I was called to the BPD where I had a 45-minute discussion (the cop was trying to get me to admit guilt/incriminate myself for something) which ended with "well, you're probably right but frankly ______ is a 'dick' and he'll keep calling my supervisor if I don't charge you with something... sorry" I was fingerprinted, photographed, and cited for felony burglary. I had to spend a week's pay to retain a lawyer. The State's Attorney dropped the case pretty much instantly. I highly doubt anyone in the SA office told the cop the job is to enforce the law not the will of property owners.

How can you conclude if they raised their hands or not? The camera wasn't on them when they weren't speaking.

Busted! You got me Odum. Can anyone who was there shed light on this? Did Brezniak & Adrian attempt to get recognized before getting obnoxious?

And now we see how that loser Kurt Wright would have acted as Mayor of Burlington. He should had never been "elevated" to the level of City Council President, especially when a vast majority of the City Councilors are left of center. He election to that position was just done to screw the Dems out of having a real say in how City Council meetings were run. I've been watching these kind of meetings on Ch. 17 (thanks to Ch. 17!) for many years now, and I've never seen a President try & limit what Councilors can say on their own time as much as Wright.

Both Wright & Knodell will not be missed when they are gone soon...good riddance to bad rubbish...

As a Democrat, I'm incensed by the antics of Ed and David. I'm troubled that few Dems will openly condemn them. And I'm fed up with self-righteous folks like Odum who call others fascists or suggest that some should be "ashamed" for holding certain opinions.

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