Council's Last Waltz: An Appointment and Police Militarization Votes | Off Message

Council's Last Waltz: An Appointment and Police Militarization Votes


Neale Lunderville appears before the city council at an earlier meeting. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Neale Lunderville appears before the city council at an earlier meeting.
At the Burlington City Council’s final meeting as a 14-member body, it appointed a permanent energy czar and debated how to prevent police militarization. 

Neale Lunderville, who’s spent the last eight months as interim general manager of the Burlington Electric Department, won glowing praise for his work, and the council voted 13-1 Monday night to approve the mayor’s decision to keep him on permanently. Lunderville gave an animated speech, telling the council, “I see only vast green fields of opportunity” for the department.

Later, Councilor Sharon Bushor told him, “You just ooze with enthusiasm about topics that are really important but that probably wouldn’t hold interest for a lot of people.”

Outgoing Progressive Councilor Rachel Siegel — the lone no vote — also complimented Lunderville, but told him that she opposed his appointment because she wasn’t satisfied with the administration’s efforts to attract a diverse pool of candidates.

In a close vote that did not fall along party lines, the council passed the first reading of a resolution that would prevent the police department from acquiring military weapons. As Seven Days' Mark Davis reported last November, for nearly two decades, local police departments have been requesting and receiving assault rifles, Humvees and other equipment from the U.S. Department of Defense, which distributes its leftovers for free.

The Burlington Police Department has largely abstained from the program under the leadership of its outgoing chief, Michael Schirling. The resolution says the department will seek only "non-battlefield weaponry items from the Department of Defense." The department has received a truck (used for graffiti removal) and night-vision goggles — both of which would qualify.

Schirling was not at the meeting, but he emailed councilors ahead of time to tell them he didn't support the resolution, which Siegel introduced. Republican Kurt Wright joined five Democratic councilors in opposing the resolution, describing it as an affront to the police department that sends the message, "We don’t trust you."

Still, it passed 8-6 with support from Mayor Miro Weinberger, who praised Schirling's prudent approach but said, "I think it's appropriate to consider codifying that wisdom." The police commission will review the resolution before it comes up for another vote. 

After seven years as chief, Schirling, 45, is stepping down in June.

The 12-member council elected on March 3 will convene its first meeting April 6. With 10 returning members, it will closely resemble the outgoing class.