Resident Alleges Burlington City Council Violated Open Meeting Law | Off Message

Resident Alleges Burlington City Council Violated Open Meeting Law


Burlington City Council - FILE: KATIE JICKLING
  • File: Katie Jickling
  • Burlington City Council
A Queen City resident is asking that the Burlington City Council vote again on the renovation of City Hall Park, contending that the council violated the state's open meeting law when it approved the project on Monday.

Wayne Senville, who has publicly voiced opposition to the park project, filed a complaint with the city attorney's office on Tuesday, saying that documents related to the project weren't available in time for members of the public to read and respond to them.

Under state law, the city has 10 days to respond to the complaint, according to City Council President Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4), so the council will hold a special meeting on Friday at 1 p.m. to vote on whether a violation occurred.

If councilors decide they did violate the law, they'd have to revote on appropriating money for the City Hall Park project. If the council rejects the complaint by voting that it followed proper procedure, Senville can file a suit in court.

City attorneys are sure that the city did not violate open meeting law and Monday's decision should stand, according to Wright. “We believe, according to our legal advice, we’re on very, very solid ground," he said. "We feel pretty strongly this is a frivolous complaint."

Senville filed his complaint the day after the council voted 10-2 to approve $5.8 million in funding to reconstruct the downtown park. Though the meeting was warned in advance and the vote was put on the agenda, city employees worked into Monday afternoon to decrease the total price tag and make changes to the project budget, cutting about $500,000.

As a result, supplementary documents about the project were tweaked, leaving members of the public "unaware of the most recent (and highly significant) changes to the plan that city staff had already prepared and provided to city council members," Senville wrote in the letter. He asked that the final vote "be deemed null and void" and the council reschedule a new vote with proper notice to the public.

Senville has been involved with Keep the Park Green, a citizen's group that has opposed the park renovation for more than two years. Members of the group say the project is too expensive and that it will result in the removal of too many trees.

The city is contending that the council filed proper protocol. Agendas must be posted 48 hours in advance, but there's no such requirement for the supporting documents that Senville described, according to Olivia LaVecchia, spokesperson for Mayor Miro Weinberger.

"The City Attorney’s office has reviewed the Open Meeting Law complaint and determined it to be without merit," LaVecchia said in an email to Seven Days. "This latest attempt to obstruct the much-needed restoration of City Hall Park will not succeed."

The city's failure to make the materials available ahead of time may have been a "violation of best practices," according to Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters. But he refused to weigh in on the legalities of the case. "It’s a tough legal question when you ask, what is a 'reasonable opportunity to comment?' and it may take a court to sort that out," he wrote in an email.

Wright said he'd follow the city attorney's advice and vote that the city had not violated the open meeting law. He called the special meeting for Friday because next Monday's council meeting will include a swearing-in ceremony for new councilors and the mayor's State of the City address, but no normal council business.