City Councilors Consider F-35 Ballot Language

Feb 7, 2018

At its most recent meeting, the Burlington City Council debated a citizen resolution for the Town Meeting Day ballot that would ask residents if the F-35 fighter jets should be based in Vermont’s largest city.  Their primary concern is the resolution’s wording.

A number of residents concerned about the impending arrival of the F-35 fighter jets at the Air National Guard Base at the Burlington International Airport submitted a resolution with more than a thousand signatures to be placed on the March 6th Town Meeting Day ballot.  

During the public comment period opinion was split on support of the F-35’s and the ballot item.
James Lockridge chastised councilors regarding the possibility of changing the resolution’s language.  “Seventeen-hundred people did not petition for you to change their words and tell them what they meant to say or for you to remove the language that they supported with their signature.”

James Leas has been an outspoken opponent of the fighter jets and helped with the petition effort.  “The Burlington City Charter and the Vermont Constitution are unambiguous that the mayor shall put the original resolution presented with the valid signatures on the warning for the Town Meeting vote.  The City Charter gives no role what-so-ever for the city council.”

Nicole Citro formed the Green Ribbons for the F-35 Campaign supporting the jets in 2012.   “Nothing logistically has changed since this council met four years ago and voiced their support for this jet and the jets will be here next year.  This is a topic that’s already been debated and I think we should spend our time as a community getting ready for the jets to be here.”

The wording of the non-binding resolution submitted by petitioners states “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?”

North District Independent Councilor Dave Hartnett sponsored an alternate resolution that modified the language.  “I had great concern with the opening remarks in support of the National Guard. I think it is deceiving and I don’t agree with it. But that being said I can almost get by that until we get to that there are alternative missions. And we know that’s not true.  I have a right here as a city councilor to make sure that the ballot question that’s going out to the voters in Burlington is factually true. This is not.”

Co-Sponsor and Ward 4 Republican Kurt Wright added: “We have never ever ever allowed editorializing comments at the beginning of a ballot question ever.  This will be a first.”

South District Democrat Joan Shannon offered an amendment to the original resolution to explain their concern that the question editorializes.  “I share Councilor Wright’s concern about setting a precedent and I hope that this clearly states that we’re doing what we need to do with some of the legal guidance that we have gotten.”

Shannon’s effort failed because, as Ward Two Progressive Max Tracy noted, it was unnecessary and vague.  “The question around editorializing and what qualifies as editorializing is an incredibly open and vague question.  For instance you know we have folks saying that this question editorializes but then adding additional language to fix this supposed editoralization that in and of itself I think is editorializing itself.”

After lengthy discussion the council passed the original resolution, Council President Jane Knodell announced.  “That carries on a vote of 10 to 2 with Councilors Wright and Hartnett in opposition. So at the end of the day the petitioners’ language will be on the ballot.”

The resolution will appear on Burlington’s Town Meeting Day ballot on March 6th.