Sunday, March 15, 2009


Shay Totten has added several updates to his original post about the March 12th city council meeting. The discussion has continued on BurlingtonPol and Green Mountain Daily, too.

The majority of the comments on the blogs and Free Press coverage were made the day after by people who were not at the meeting - most of them had relied on the coverage in the Free Press:

Police called to City Council meeting

You'd think Steve Ekberg had streaked around Contois, disrupting the proceedings. But it was council president Kurt Wright who'd called BPD to quell what he claimed as possible unruly behavior by councilors Adrian and Berezniak.

I was not at the meeting. But from the reactions on the BFP site and the buzz on the blogs, I was expecting Adrian's and Berezniak's behaviour to be worse than was reported. What amazed me was that the police being called and their presence at the meeting was acceptable to people. I would even say that the Free Press encouraged this response with its headline.

After viewing Channel 17's rebroadcast of the Downtown Use and Height Ordinance segment - where Adrian and Berezniak questioned the procedural aspects of the agenda - it is very clear there was no reason for Wright to phone the police. He was flustered, but he was also over-reacting. As a mayoral candidate he bragged how he was a conciliator in working with opponents on the council. Calling the cops was an inappropriate remedy if we take seriously democracy in our municipal government. Councilor Berezniak is correct in making a formal complaint to city attorney Schatz.

I agree with Jack McCullough's (GMD) comments after having seen the council meeting video:

1. The entire period of the so-called disruption and confrontation regarding the points of order and points of information lasted maybe five minutes or so.

2. It appears that there were a number of different points of order and points of information that the Democrats were raising. As I could make them out, they included whether the Council was holding a new meeting or a continuation of the previous meeting; what agenda they were working from in light of the fact that the clerk had issued a new agenda but Councilor Knodell initially seemed to be addressing an item on the original agenda; whether it was in order to take up the ordinance without its first having gone through the ordinance committee; and whether the current Council was bound by a resolution that laid out a special process for this ordinance, notwithstanding the fact that there had been a change of council membership since the adoption of the original resolution. (I may be missing one or two points, but I think that's the gist of it.)

3. From what I could tell, the Democrats tried to get rulings on their points of order (or information ), but I didn't see them pushing any particular point of order once there was a ruling from the Chair on it.

4. There were a number of times when the Chair tried to reject or rule a point of order out of order before hearing it.

5. The Chair eventually informed the objecting members that they had the right to appeal his rulings and seek a vote on their point of order if they disagreed with his ruling; they never did so.

6. At no point did the Chair as for a vote on whether the Democrats were obstructing the proceedings and should be removed.

I think #6 is an important point. There is a parliamentary process for removing members who are obstructing the work of the body, but they don't involve the Chair calling the police. There may have been people other than Kurt Wright and Jane Knodell who were annoyed at the objections of the Democrats, but we didn't hear from them. We can't know what they would have done if it had been put to a vote, but it is at least possible that members of the Council who would need to maintain a working relationship with the minority might take a different view of how to proceed than the lame duck Council President and Councilor.

In law there is a process to ask the judge to allow you a continuing objection when you know you will need to make the same objection repeatedly in the course of a witness's testimony, but it doesn't apply to an objection based on different grounds. As far as I could tell, these were new objections based on different grounds, so each time an objection was made it was the first time it was being presented to the chair.

Either way, it just boggles my mind that a presiding officer would call the police and threaten to remove elected officials trying to represent their constituents, even if they were in the minority.

1 comment:

  1. What alarms me most is when you find people making comments like this, which I found over at the Burlington Free Press: "Police should have stepped in with billy clubs. We have to get the Dems out, or VT is going nowhere."

    This issue of having the police brought in to a city council meeting to possibly remove "elected officials" must be fought with everything we have to make sure it never ever happens again.

    Kurt Wright must be held accountable.


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