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Burlington Council OKs Purchase of 100 Security Cameras


Published September 12, 2022 at 10:56 p.m.

A security camera - LEUNG CHO PAN | DREAMSTIME
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  • A security camera
The Burlington City Council on Monday approved spending nearly half a million dollars to purchase 100 new security cameras.

But according to the city's chief innovation officer, Scot Barker, most of those cameras won't be used right away. About a dozen cameras would replace broken ones, and another 15 to 20 would be installed in key areas around the city including Leddy Park, Fletcher Free Library and at the intersection of Church and Main streets. The remainder would be kept in reserve "to ensure the City is prepared for break/fix situations," Barker said in a memo.

The $425,000 will also pay for an upgrade of the outdated software program that runs the city's existing 200 cameras, which can be found inside city hall or in outdoor public places such as City Hall Park. The motion passed 10-4 with councilors Perri Freeman (P-Central District), Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1), Ali House (P-Ward 8) and Joe Magee (P-Ward 3) voting no.

The topic sparked discussion on how security cameras fit into the city's overall plan for public safety, an issue that's been top of mind as a wave of gun-related violence has swept Burlington. Mayor Miro Weinberger reminded councilors that just last week, police arrested two suspects accused of murdering a man in City Hall Park by using camera footage.
"It's very clear that the security cameras played a critical role in being able to reconstruct events that led up to that homicide," the mayor said.

Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District) also spoke of the cameras' usefulness in solving crime. She disagreed with the notion that surveillance cameras present privacy concerns since most people carry cell phones with cameras and can post footage online.

"I think Big Brother is out there, and Big Brother is all of us," she said.

But, Councilor Magee countered, unlike footage from city-owned cameras, videos shot on personal cell phones aren't directly fed to the police department. Police dispatchers retain footage for 90 days, Barker said, and only review it during police investigations.

Councilor Hightower asked for more clarity on how the city uses the footage and encouraged the administration to share that information publicly.

"Right now, if a constituent came to me and asked, 'Oh, my property was stolen. Can we use those cameras to retrieve it?' I don't even know the answer to that," she said.

Later in the meeting, councilors advanced a measure to expand ranked-choice voting to mayoral elections.

The bipartisan resolution, which passed on a 10-2 vote, sends the proposal to the council's Charter Change Committee for review. The full council would then vote in October.
Ranked-choice voting lets voters rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, that person wins; otherwise, the election goes to an instant runoff. The last-place finisher is eliminated, and votes that were cast for that candidate are assigned to those voters' second choices. The process continues until one candidate hits the 50 percent-plus-one threshold.

"What we really want to look for is a voting system that serves democracy, that engages the public and that produces a result that is reflective of the voters' will," said Councilor Shannon, who cosponsored the resolution with four council Progs. "I know that many people I respect disagree with me, but I will continue to support ranked-choice voting."

It's been a rocky road for ranked-choice voting in Burlington. The city abandoned the method after a controversial mayoral race more than a decade ago, but councilors revived the discussion in the summer of 2020, passing a resolution to use the system in city council, school board and mayoral contests.

That effort was stymied when Mayor Miro Weinberger issued his first-ever veto to block it, citing concerns that the topic would distract from the city's pandemic recovery.

Councilors later proposed using the method only in council elections. That resolution made it onto the March 2021 ballot and earned wide approval from voters. Like all charter changes, the item was sent to Montpelier for review. Legislators passed it, and Gov. Phil Scott let it become law in May without his signature.

Council elections will first use ranked-choice voting on Town Meeting Day in March 2023. Councilor Jack Hanson (P-East District) hopes the mayoral proposal will be on the same ballot.
Also Monday, councilors agreed to form a working group to review the city's options for redistricting.

Councilors Hightower, Magee, Mark Barlow (I-North District) and Ben Traverse (D-Ward 5) will meet sometime later this month to discuss the map proposals. The council originally aimed to put a new map design on the November ballot but has since extended that timeline to March 2023.

The city embarked on the reapportionment process after recent U.S. Census data showed uneven population shifts in each of Burlington's eight wards. Since 2015, the city has had eight numbered wards and four districts, each composed of two wards. Residents have two elected officials: a ward councilor and a district councilor.

The council has so far considered maps with seven, eight and 12 wards. The latest proposal would have five two-member districts and two single-member districts.