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April 01, 2013

Burlington City Council at an Impasse, But Weinberger Sees City Headed in 'Right Direction'

Shortly after Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger had declared a half-dozen times Monday night that the city is "moving in the right direction," the city council showed it was at an impasse over choosing a leader.

Councilors voted three times on whether Democrat Joan Shannon (right) or independent Karen Paul (left) should be president of the 14-member body. Each time, the seven Democrats, four Progressives, two independents and one Republican deadlocked 7-7. The Dems all voted for Shannon; everyone else voted for Paul.

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A 15-minute recess ensued, during which councilors huddled in shifting groups. But when Chief Administrative Officer Paul Sisson, presiding as a temporary — and uncertain — chair called the meeting back to order, independent Councilor Sharon Bushor proposed that she and her colleagues take a week to confer and perhaps emerge with a consensus choice as president. The council agreed to reconvene on Monday, April 8, at 5:30 p.m. in city hall to vote again.

In interviews following tonight's meeting, councilors said no third candidate had been identified in private discussions as a possible compromise choice. But unless at least one member defects to the other side on the Paul-Shannon standoff, the council will have to come up with an alternate choice if it is to avoid displaying symptoms of Potomac Disease: a stubborn refusal to compromise.

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The Dems had signaled their unity behind Shannon by having Councilor Dave Hartnett (D-Ward 4) put her name in nomination. Because he does not caucus with the other Democrats on the council and occasionally votes in opposition to the Democratic mayor, Hartnett might have been seen as the party member most likely to defect. But he was forceful and humorous in his championing of Shannon, who served as council president for the past year.

"She's done a remarkable job," Hartnett declared, describing as "two of her brightest moments" Shannon's ability to maintain decorum at meetings that considered "very passionate issues." He cited the debates on the no-protest zone near Planned Parenthood and the proposed ban on assault rifles in Burlington.

Hartnett recalled that Shannon had told the 100-plus National Rifle Association members attending the latter meeting that they must not clap their hands but should instead use the finger-wiggle expression of approval associated with the Occupy movement. It was amusing to see the NRA contingent doing "the silent wave," Hartnett said.

Bushor, the council's doyenne with 25 years of service, nominated Paul. "Invested and involved are two terms that define Karen Paul," Bushor told the standing-room crowd in Contois Auditorium. The independent from Ward 1 noted that her independent colleague from Ward 6 has served on numerous boards, both public and nonprofit, and has a strong background in finances.

No councilors had their minds changed by these nominating speeches, as the partisan votes remained stuck in a predicted pattern.

IMG_2041Weinberger earlier in the evening delivered an upbeat State of the City speech which he punctuated with frequent hand thrusts.

"After a year of difficult choices and sacrifice, we are now headed in the right direction, with our finances improving, municipal projects moving, and the public’s trust of city governance growing once again," the mayor declared.

He recited the "right direction" refrain in regard to restoration of city parks, environmental initiatives and economic and social opportunities.

Weinberger also touched on thorny problems, such as Burlington Telecom, which he described as "uncertain, complex, and beyond the city’s control to resolve unilaterally." The municipal pension fund poses difficult challenges that will not be easily overcome, the mayor added.

IMG_2055"Admitting and addressing mistakes when they happen" counts as one of his administration's achievements of the past year, Weinberger said.

"Certainly," he acknowledged, "I have made my share."

In attendance on Organization Night were Congressman Peter Welch and a former Burlington mayor. No... not Bob Kiss. It was Frank Cain (pictured right), who led the Queen City from 1965 to 1971.

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