Here's What's Happening on This Unprecedented Town Meeting Day | Off Message

Here's What's Happening on This Unprecedented Town Meeting Day


Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger at Edmunds Elementary School on Tuesday - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger at Edmunds Elementary School on Tuesday
An unprecedented Town Meeting Day is finally upon us.

Last year’s was held in person, just before the pandemic forever changed Vermont. Few meetings this year will actually be held in person, as is tradition, and many municipalities have encouraged residents to vote by mail. Some, using a new state law, have postponed meeting dates until later this spring. Most municipalities have opened polling places on Tuesday for those who want to vote in person.

Here are some of the top issues we’re following:

L to R: Miro Weinberger, Max Tracy, Ali Dieng - FILE: BEAR CIERI ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Bear Cieri ©️ Seven Days
  • L to R: Miro Weinberger, Max Tracy, Ali Dieng
It’s a full ballot in Burlington, where all eyes are on the mayor’s race. Incumbent Miro Weinberger, a Democrat, is trying to fend off City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2), City Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) and four other lesser-known independent candidates. These stories will help bring you up to speed on the contest:

The four district seats on the Burlington City Council are also up this year. In the Central District, Progressive incumbent Perri Freeman faces a challenge from Tiki Archambeau, a former Progressive Party chair running on what he says is a more moderate platform than Freeman's. Also in the race is Peggy Luhrs, an activist known most recently for stances that have angered some transgender people and their allies.

Mark Barlow and Kienan Christianson - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Mark Barlow and Kienan Christianson
The North District seat is wide open as its current occupant, Councilor Franklin Paulino, a Democrat, isn’t running. Mark Barlow, an independent who previously served on the city’s school board, is facing off against Democrat/Progressive Kienan Christianson, who serves on the city’s Development Review Board and ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2019.

Longtime Democratic incumbent Joan Shannon is hoping to hold onto her South District seat against challenger Grace Ahmed. And Councilor Jack Hanson (P-East District) is running unopposed for the seat he first won in 2019.
Also on the ballot are several questions that have sparked intense debate. Voters will decide if they want to resurrect ranked-choice voting, a system the city did away with in 2010, for city council elections.

Christie Delphia - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Christie Delphia
Question 5 asks voters whether the city should change its charter to ban “no-cause” evictions. The hotly contested issue has pitted landlords against tenants. Signs erected recently urging a no vote on the question were derided as racist and deceptive; one of those who helped crafted the messages, a landlord, fessed up and apologized for her role.

Another item, Question 7, would allow the city to "regulate thermal energy systems" through fees on carbon emissions. If voters endorsed the proposal, it would still require state legislative approval. The measure has drawn heated opposition from business-oriented organizations and support from environmental orgs and others who say it would help the city combat the climate crisis.

As always voters will consider school budgets. Burlington's $95.1 million spending plan includes a $120,000 appropriation that would fund multilingual liaisons to help New American families navigate the school district. The Winooski school budget of $19.5 million includes $60,000 for a similar use.

Racial justice protesters in downtown Burlington - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Racial justice protesters in downtown Burlington
Not on the ballot but on many minds are changes to oversight of the Burlington Police Department. A majority on the City Council wanted voters to consider whether a new board should investigate and dish out punishment to officers — including even the chief. But Weinberger vetoed the measure and a council effort to override the mayor’s decision failed.

As the state legislature works to tweak S.54, the law that legalized retail cannabis sales, residents in nearly 30 municipalities around Vermont will vote on Tuesday on whether to allow pot shops to open within their city- or town-limits. Burlington is among them. 

Esther Thomas - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Esther Thomas
Amid the largest racial justice movement this country has seen since the 1960s, more than a dozen candidates of color are running for local office in Vermont this Town Meeting Day. That's even though Black women officeholders have been harassed and even driven from their positions — or homes. Here are profiles of five BIPOC candidates, from Bennington to St. Albans, who are running this year.

In Peacham, residents are voting on names for the town snowplows. And in St. Albans City, they’re voting on funding for a new swimming pool. Vergennes just needs some elected officials who can stay in office. And Winooski residents are hoping to send a loud message to the Vermont Air National Guard that they don’t really appreciate the building-shaking roar of those F-35s.

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