Burlington City Council Approves Resolution Forwarding Town Meeting Day Vote Requesting Cancellation

Mar 27, 2018

The Burlington, Vermont City Council approved a resolution Monday night on the controversial plan to base F-35s in the city. The council voted to forward the Town Meeting Day ballot item requesting the Air Force cancel the basing of fighter jets at the Air National Guard base at the Burlington International Airport.

On Town Meeting Day, a citizen-initiated ballot item stating “Shall we, the voters of the city of Burlington, as part of our strong support for the men and women of the Vermont National Guard, and especially their mission to ‘protect the citizens of Vermont,’ advise the City Council to: 1) request the cancellation of the planned basing of the F-35 at Burlington International Airport, and 2) request instead low-noise-level equipment with a proven high safety record appropriate for a densely populated area?”

The resolution passed 6,482 to 5,238.  A resolution to forward to the Air Force the result of the vote, text of the ballot question and additional questions such as whether there is another possible mission for the Vermont Air Guard; noise contours and afterburner use were on the City Council agenda Monday.
Proponents and opponents of the F-35 basing spent nearly two hours offering comment to the council.
James Leas is one of the organizers of the ballot question.  “Please respect the will of the voters by including the request for cancellation  of the F-35  in the resolve clause of the resolution.”
“My name’s John Rahill.  I was extremely disappointed to see the wording of the ballot question that was presented to us. I think it was very deceitful and deceptive.”
City Council President Jane Knodell:  “Ernie Pommerleau and then Tony Bell.”
Pommerleau:  “Yes meant no, no meant yes. I think we have to consider the magnitude of a flawed ballot.”
Knodell:  “Tony Bell.”
Bell:   “The Green Mountain Boys have earned this mission through their exemplary record. The ballot question this month was an absolute joke and this council should be ashamed to have allowed it.”
Jane:  “Betsy McGarist.”  
McGarist:  “We want the F-35’s canceled and replaced. I’m here reminding you that it’s your job to honor the democratic process to insure that the F-35’s are canceled and replaced.  That’s it. Canceled and replaced.”

The resolution offered by South District Democrat Joan Shannon did include the ballot wording and additional questions for the Air Force to answer.  “These are questions that have been in the community and there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. And that’s not an accusation of the leadership of the group that supported the ballot but just that there’s a lot of people out there saying a lot of things and even within the EIS itself there is sometimes conflicting information. I don’t think we should fear information and I don’t think we should fear questions. And I think it’s important for our community going forward to understand better what the impacts to this community will be.”

North District Independent David Hartnett did not support the resolution excoriating the group that offered the original the ballot question.  “Throughout this process this group has been turned away at every stop, every court, every appeal. So they had one last resort: putting a deceptive question in front of the Burlington voters. And this late in the game and the plane is definitely coming on one last hail Mary that you’ll get the word that they’re not coming. At this point in the process there’s no need for the letter.  We know they’re coming. I ask that we turn our attention where we can make a difference in working with the Guard.”

Ward 7 Democrat/Progressive Ali Dieng offered several amendments to eliminate the series of questions from the resolution and leave only the ballot wording.   “The area that we want to talk about is basically to respectfully ask for the National Guard to cancel. To me all of these questions they don’t have any. It will take us time. We might not even get the right answers.  Let’s just get right to the point.”

There was some confusion and delays as he attempted to change a revised version while sponsor Joan Shannon explained she had introduced the original version.  As the city council president got up to explain some details to Dieng, a mike caught an off-the cuff comment from another councilor harkening back to complaints over confusion about the ballot wording.  “Now we know what the voters felt.”

In the midst of the debate over the resolution’s language, Mayor Miro Weinberger, who does not vote on the measure, but has the final decision whether to forward it to the Air Force, weighed in on the debate.   “I do not support the cancellation of the basing.  I think the Shannon resolution goes a long way towards attempting to put forward an action that would both respect the long history and the importance of the Guard in this community, maintain the economic vitality that we know stems from the Guard’s presence and would make it clear that this body does not want the F-35 basing canceled unless there is a replacement mission that is comparable.  Something that is very much in question. And I would have a hard, very hard, I would not support language that does not attempt to make that clear.”

The resolution with questions passed on a vote of 9 to 3.  City officials are asking the Secretary of the Air Force to respond in writing by May 1st.
Audio from the Burlington City Council Meeting is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.