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Town Meeting Day 2013

December 18, 2013

School Budget Gets Nod in Walden — At Last

By Kristen Fountain

 Five turned out to be the magic number for students and educators in Walden.

After more than nine months of wrangling, voters in the small Caledonia County town finally passed a school budget after a fifth ballot vote on Tuesday, 176-131. The district was the first statewide in 20 years to operate this long without an approved budget.

“This is all I wanted for Christmas,” school board member Ray Lewis said. “I am very happy.”

Continue reading "School Budget Gets Nod in Walden — At Last " »

March 07, 2013

Times Argus Editor Calls for an End to Vermont's Town Meeting Day Tradition

Norman-rockwell-freedom-of-speech-pictureEvery Town Meeting Day, the Vermont media run a few heart-warming stories that reinforce the Rockwellian ideal of what it means to participate in local, direct democracy — such as this chestnut from WCAX about "Newark's Tasty Town Meeting Day Tradition."

(Spoiler alert: it involves "casseroles and salads galore.")

And then there's Steven Pappas' town meeting takedown. In a piece headlined "Has Town Meeting Run Its Course?" (behind the paywall), the editor of the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus calls for ending the cherished tradition and replacing it with voting booths.

The piece begins:

I’m going to make a motion. I know it will eventually get a second, and plenty of discussion. 

In the end, I expect it will fail.

My motion is this: “I move that all town and school budgets, as well as election of local officers, across Vermont be decided by Australian ballot, hereby ending the ‘traditional town meeting’ as we know it.”

For real. Once and for all. It’s a relic, and its worn parts are really starting to show.

Damn. At first, I thought Pappas was joking — that this was some ironic set-up or journalistic bait-and-switch that, in the end, would call for fixing town meeting's broken parts but not scrapping the whole enterprise.

I mean, really. The editor of state capital's daily newspaper crapping on, of all things, town meeting? That's got to be satire, right?

Nope. As the piece goes along, it becomes crystal clear the dude's dead serious.

Continue reading "Times Argus Editor Calls for an End to Vermont's Town Meeting Day Tradition" »

March 06, 2013

South Burlington Voters: 'We Ain't Marching Anymore to a Different Drummer'

South Burl CCTown Meeting Day in South Burlington presented voters with a clear choice on their city’s direction, and they delivered a decisive verdict: Out with the new, in with the old.

Incumbent city councilors Sandy Dooley and Paul Engels were buried in a landslide that swept challengers Pat Nowak and Chris Shaw onto the five-member panel. Dooley and especially Engels presented themselves as a new guard with progressive views, while painting Shaw and Nowak as exponents of an old, pro-development way of conducting the city’s affairs.

But the more than 2-1 rejection of the incumbents by voters does not necessarily signify a triumph of the right over the left. Council candidates in South Burlington don’t run with party labels. And Dooley and Engels were members of a body that made some broadly unpopular moves that had nothing to do with liberal or conservative attitudes. Those actions left them on the defensive throughout an intensely fought campaign.

“It was a combination of things — interim zoning, the F-35, Cairns Arena, the National Gardening Association” that accounted for the outcome, Engels said on the morning after.

Interim zoning refers to a two-year freeze the council imposed on most development in the city, with the aim of enabling four study groups to develop recommendations for South Burlington’s future. “The developers were against that from day one,” comments council chair Rosanne Greco, who remains in office but who will almost certainly have to surrender her gavel when the new council convenes.

“The development community bought this election,” Greco added, referring in part to the heavy advertising on behalf of Nowak and Shaw that ran in South Burlington’s weekly paper.

Continue reading "South Burlington Voters: 'We Ain't Marching Anymore to a Different Drummer'" »

March 05, 2013

Town Meeting Day 2013: South Burlington Incumbents Lose Big. Burlington Progs Pick Up Seat, Republicans Lose One

TMD 2013One-party rule in Burlington will have to wait.

One year after Mayor Miro Weinberger won a landslide election, ending Democrats' 30-year exile from Burlington City Hall, his party failed to win enough seats to claim a majority on the 14-member city council. Democrats picked up an open seat in the New North End, long a Republican stronghold, but Progressives recaptured a seat in the Old North End and an independent in Ward 1 hung onto her seat.

In the end, voters went for the better known candidates — and the result will be more divided government in the Queen City.

But the big story of the night was the drubbing of incumbent South Burlington city councilors Sandy Dooley and Paul Engels, who lost by two-to-one margins to challengers Chris Shaw and Patricia Nowak. The incumbents found themselves on the defensive about their vote against basing F-35 fighter jets at Burlington International Airport, and about the firing and $140,000 severance paid out to city manager Sandy Miller.

Continue reading "Town Meeting Day 2013: South Burlington Incumbents Lose Big. Burlington Progs Pick Up Seat, Republicans Lose One" »

Live Coverage: Town Meeting Day 2013

250-voteHappy Town Meeting Day, everyone! Once again Seven Days is teaming up with Burlington's Channel 17 for coverage. We'll have a live blog and chat with writers and readers from around the state, plus live streaming video from Channel 17. We'll also aggregate Town Meeting Day reports from media outlets around the state and update results as we get them, including from the competitive city council races in Burlington. The fun starts at 6 p.m.

Click here to tune in.

F-35 Foes Threaten Drive to Slash Airport Funding

Jim DumontLocal opponents of the F-35 are throttling up their campaign by petitioning for a cutoff of construction funds for Burlington International Airport if it agrees to host the fighter jets.

Activists began gathering signatures during Town Meeting Day voting today in support of a 2014 ballot initiative stating that "no more than one dollar may be spent for construction, equipment and improvement" at the airport in the event F-35s are based there.

Bristol attorney Jim Dumont, speaking on behalf of the plane’s opponents, argues that Burlington voters have the power to slash the airport’s budget. He bases that claim on a section of state law that requires local voters to approve the budget of a municipally owned airport. Burlington has apparently flouted this law for decades by not making airport funding contingent on direct approval by city voters, Dumont said at a news conference Tuesday morning at the Mater Christi School polling place.

City attorney Eileen Blackwood says Dumont has it wrong.

In a statement emailed to reporters on the evening prior to the press event, Blackwood said, “Burlington’s city charter trumps the general state law on this issue.” Burlington’s charter vests budget-making authority solely with the city council, she notes. Airport spending therefore could not be directly blocked by the city’s voters, Blackwood says.

Dumont (pictured) responded on Tuesday that it’s Blackwood who’s got it wrong.

Continue reading "F-35 Foes Threaten Drive to Slash Airport Funding" »

In Mayor Weinberger's Home Town, Hartland Voters Approve Gun-Control Resolution

Photo (17)Gun control might be a non-starter under Montpelier's golden dome this year, but that's not stopping voters in a half-dozen Upper Valley towns from weighing in on the issue themselves.

At least six towns in the region are considering a largely symbolic resolution that instructs federal and state lawmakers to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, require criminal background checks for every gun sold in the United States, and make gun trafficking a federal crime with real penalties for "straw purchasers," or those who purchase arms for those barred from doing so.

It's a proposition that voters in Hartland approved this morning after a tense but mostly civil Town Meeting Day floor debate about the possible merits or perils of gun control. While plenty of residents weighed in with their skepticism about the resolution — criticizing it as vague, unnecessary and a waste of time — the supporters ultimately carried the day.

"I'm tired of doing nothing, and I'm tired of our legislators being intimidated by a small, small lobby group with a lot of money," said Michael Heaney.

Continue reading "In Mayor Weinberger's Home Town, Hartland Voters Approve Gun-Control Resolution" »

March 04, 2013

The Week Ahead: March 4-10, 2013

The Week AheadHappy Monday, politics geeks! Here's what's happening in Vermont news and politics this week — a slow one with the legislature on Town Meeting break.

Got a newsworthy event for next week's calendar? Email by Friday to submit.

Monday, March 4

  • Gov. Peter Shumlin is in Rutland all morning, starting with a legislative breakfast with business leaders at 7:45, and ending with a tour of the Strafford Technical Center at 11:30.
  • What could be more political than maple syrup? Not much — at least in Vermont. Today, Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition" tackles the coming changes to the maple grading system Vermont uses in a segment called "Goodbye Fancy, Hello Golden Color." Listen live

Rest of the week after the break...

Continue reading "The Week Ahead: March 4-10, 2013" »

March 01, 2013

Unlucky 13th? Bushor Battles Feisty Dems for Another City Council Term

Sharon BushorUnseating City Councilor Sharon Bushor would qualify as one of the biggest upsets in Burlington's recent political history. But some civic activists in Ward 1 insist that Democratic challenger Tom Derenthal just might be able to prevent Bushor, an independent, from winning an unprecedented 13th term on the council.

In her 26 years of service, Bushor has built a reputation for diligence, responsiveness to her constituents and long-windedness. Having acquired the status of an institution, she has faced only token or write-in opposition in recent re-election bids. But Bushor did have to battle an aggressive Democratic opponent in 2005 when the hard-charging Ed Adrian came within 41 votes of ending her tenure.

Tom_derenthalEight years later, there's talk of "Sharon fatigue" on the part of some voters. Bushor, 65, hears that herself as she makes the campaign rounds. "People say you've been around a while, but that doesn't mean you're devoid of new ideas," she said in an interview five days prior to the March 5 council election.

Peg Boyle Single, a Democrat and member of the Ward 1 Neighborhood Planning Assembly steering committee, expresses the time-for-a-change sentiment. "Sharon has been on the council quite a while and some of the issues facing the ward have persisted during that time," Single says. Derenthal, she adds, "is bringing a new perspective on those issues."

Continue reading "Unlucky 13th? Bushor Battles Feisty Dems for Another City Council Term" »

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