Burlington Council Grants Residency Exemption for New CEDO Chief | Off Message

Burlington Council Grants Residency Exemption for New CEDO Chief

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Noelle MacKay - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Noelle MacKay
Another top Burlington appointee has received a "personal hardship" exemption to avoid living in the city.

The Burlington City Council voted Tuesday night to grant Noelle MacKay a waiver to the city requirement that says key appointees, including the Community and Economic Development Office director, should be legal Burlington voters, meaning they must reside in the city.

Then all but one member of the 12-person council voted to approve MacKay's appointment as Burlington's new CEDO director, but not without some debate first.

Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) voted against the hardship exemption and against MacKay's appointment. Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1), Karen Paul (D-Ward 6) and Chip Mason (D-Ward 5) also voted against the hardship waiver, but subsequently voted to confirm MacKay.

Tracy scoffed at the idea that living in Burlington is a personal hardship. The city is an incredible place and people who run city departments should live in it, he said. "They should have to deal with the decisions that they make," he said. 

Numerous appointees have gotten around the charter requirement with exemptions or by renting apartments they don't really live in. Tracy said that rather than "opening that door continually" the city council should instead consistently uphold the charter standard. 

Tracy said that Burlington schools Superintendent Yaw Obeng's decision to reside in South Burlington despite the charter provision has triggered debate about his commitment to the schools, with comments to the effect of, "What does he care, he doesn't even live in Burlington." 

The council declined to immediately embrace a proposal from Mayor Miro Weinberger to broaden the residency exemptions, and instead sent it to a council charter change subcommittee for review.

That's overdue, said Dave Hartnett (I-North District). The council has not consistently enforced the provision and Hartnett thinks it's unfair on many levels, including to the job candidates who don't know how or whether it will be enforced. "We're being unfair to them, we're being unfair to us, we're being unfair to the mayor and we're really being disingenuous with the voters," Hartnett said. 

MacKay appeared before the council to explain her request. She said she and her partner purchased a home in Shelburne three years ago and didn't think they could sell so soon without a loss. 

"We just felt that at this time the financial loss was just not something we could take along with the stress and strain of also picking up and moving at this time," MacKay said.

Selene Colburn (P-East District) agreed that a thorough review of the requirement is in order, with plenty of public input. 

"It's been clear to me over the last month of talking about this issue with my constituents that there's a lot of public interest in this question about residency requirements," she said. 
 
With all the exemptions in place, it becomes an equity issue to grant them to one hire and not the next, she said, noting that Peter Owens, who recently resigned as CEDO director, also had a hardship exemption.

Bushor praised MacKay's qualifications but voted against the exemption, telling her: "I think that you've got incredible skills, but I do believe there is some value in having people live in our community that actually have leadership roles." 

Bushor then approved hiring MacKay, noting that MacKay must renew her request for an exemption in a year and the council can debate it further then.


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