A petition being circulated in Burlington asks that a simple question be put to a vote this November: "Shall the City of Burlington advise Mayor Kiss to remove CAO Jonathan Leopold?"
Spearheading the petition is Ward 4 resident Loyal Ploof, a former school board member who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2006. He's been active in ward neighborhood planning assemblies in the Old North End and New North End.
Ploof said he was inspired to launch the petition drive after the mayor ignored two separate city council votes to either put Leopold on leave or fire him.
“The people’s voice was taken when the mayor decided to reappoint Leopold even though the council didn’t approve, and I want to give them a voice again,” said Ploof. "By ignoring the votes of the council, he took away our power, and I'm hoping this vote will bring the power back to us."
The referendum, like the city council votes, would be advisory and not binding. Which means the mayor could ignore any citizen vote as easily as he has ignored council votes regarding Leopold.
Last fall, the city council voted 8-6 to suspend Leopold with pay while state officials conducted an investigation into how $17 million in taxpayer funds was provided to Burlington Telecom. Both the city's charter and BT's certificate of public good required any funds borrowed from taxpayers to be repaid within 60 days.
Mayor Kiss vetoed the council's rebuke of Leopold, and the council could not muster up the necessary ninth vote to override his veto.
Then, on Monday night, the council voted 10-4 against reappointing Leopold to another year at his post. But the vote has little practical effect, as the mayor can reappoint department heads without the council's consent.
Kiss told councilors Monday night that it was due to the CAO's "hard work" that the city was in good financial shape overall.
Ploof circulated the petition at the Ward 2 and 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly Thursday night, where he picked up a handful of signatures. He’s presenting the petition to the New North End NPAs in Wards 4 and 7 on Tuesday night, and next month will attend other ward NPA meetings.
He plans to create a political action committee that will gather the 1600 signatures needed to get the question on the November ballot. The committee will be called Take Action Burlington.
"The trust of the voters has been eroded by this administration," said Ploof. "There is just no confidence in them at all by the voters, and that needs to change."