Burlington Mayor and Progressives blame each other for gruesome end to Sears Lane encampment
BURLINGTON – The recent clean-up of Sears Lane encampment was important to Monday night’s city council meeting, with Mayor Miro Weinberger and progressive councilors sharply criticizing each other’s positions on the issue as damaging to former residents of the demolished camp.
Police and city workers emptied the city-owned land early Friday morning, nearly two months after Weinberger first ordered campers to evacuate the site. While most of the camp’s roughly 30 residents left in late October, less than a third stayed at the site at least part-time, saying they preferred it to hotel rooms provided by the government.
It ended early Friday morning when police descended on the camp and told residents to move out. While four campers left voluntarily, two were arrested – one at gunpoint, on pending arrest warrants and the other for refusing to leave. After the camp was evacuated, the public works teams transported the many objects scattered around the site in dumpsters.
Of the six campers pulled from the site on Friday, three found alternative accommodation, one camped elsewhere and two did not respond to the city’s outreach, Weinberger told councilors on Monday.
In a statement last week, Weinberger defended the cleanup as necessary, citing Fire Chief Steven Locke’s assessment that the campers’ heat sources caused a fatal blaze in the months to come. Weinberger also announced that his administration would release a plan to tackle homelessness in the city this week.
But the withdrawal from the camp – which surprised campers and city councilors – was strongly condemned by progressives at Monday’s meeting. Although the matter was not brought up on the meeting’s agenda, advisers took to Weinberger during the “general affairs” section.
âWe’re saying we’re going to do all of these things in the future by supporting the homeless community,â Councilor Zoraya Hightower, P-Ward 1, said in an apparent nod to Weinberger’s upcoming plan. âI think it’s not great to take people out first and then say we’re going to do something. Seems like a bad order to me.
Councilor Joan Shannon, of the D-South District, supported Weinberger’s decision to close Sears Lane, citing reports from neighbors that some campers were threatening them or engaging in unsafe behavior. Councilor Ali Dieng, I-Ward 7, supported Shannon’s point of view, although he criticized the mayor for failing to notify councilors of the camp’s dissolution in advance.
After the general affairs section of the board, Weinberger blew up progressive advisers, sometimes addressing board chairman Max Tracy, P-Ward 2.
“There is no doubt that the measures taken by the administration have also ensured the safety of our neighbors and the safety of our first responders,” Weinberger told advisers. âOn the other hand, inaction would have caused harm. â¦ And President Tracy, inaction – doing nothing – is all the advisers attacking the administration are now proposing as an alternative.
At a meeting on Nov. 15, Progressive Councilors attempted to bring forward a resolution calling on the mayor to contract with a non-profit organization to run the Sears Lane encampment, but other councilors boosted the resolution to procedural reasons.
The effort would have been similar to that already made by Weinberger’s office in September. No nonprofit made a bid at that time, the mayor’s office said.
Progressive councilors said they plan to codify in an ordinance a 2019 municipal policy that outlines steps the mayor’s office should take to prevent people from taking shelter on public lands.
This policy has become the crux of an ongoing lawsuit between some Sears Lane campers and the town. As campers accuse the city of breaking policy when it cleared Sears Lane, the city maintains that it provided campers with proper accommodation when they picked up the package.
Change of sex work charter
Also on Monday evening, councilors unanimously approved a measure that would end the city’s seldom-used power to regulate or enforce sex work. The measure is heading to voters for final approval in the city’s annual election on March 1.
If approved, the city’s charter would no longer grant it the power “to curb and suppress bad houses and messy houses, and to punish ordinary prostitutes.”
The amended municipal charter will have no effect on the legality of sex work in Burlington, as sex crimes are usually prosecuted under state law, not a municipal ordinance, the district attorney said. city, Dan Richardson.
Despite its lack of legal ramifications, supporters of repealing the charter’s language said it would increase the safety of those who engage in sex work by de-stigmatizing the practice. The sponsor of the charter change – Councilor Perri Freeman, P-Central District – said the Atlanta spa shooting prompted them to resume the effort.
But the proposal also sparked a wave of opposition. At Monday’s meeting, about a dozen anti-sex trafficking activists from across the country went online virtually to tell advisers they believed the charter change would lead to an increase in demand for commercial sex, which it said. them, would be satisfied by an increase in trafficking for sexual purposes instead of consensual sex work.
While councilors have already repealed references to “prostitution” from its ordinances in October, removing language from the charter would deprive future councils of the authority to regulate sex work.
Most towns and cities in Vermont don’t have sex work ordinances on the books, Richardson said.
Both parties seem to agree that the language used in the city’s charter is outdated and offensive. Critics of the change, however, pleaded with advisers to replace the struck language with an equivalent version that uses more modern terminology.
Yet councilors did not change the charter change when it came to speaking. While all 12 members reported mixed support for legalizing sex work, Councilor Mark Barlow, I-North District – who said he does not support legalization – stressed that the charter change would not legalize sex work.
If voters approve the measure, it would go on to the legislature and governor, who give final approval to changes to the municipal charter.
A proposed charter change that would have given Councilors the power to increase their own allocations was unanimously removed from the agenda at the start of the meeting after a motion from Councilor Jane Stromberg, P-Ward 8. Accordingly, it will not be voted on in time to appear before the voters in the March 1 poll.
In the other Monday evening business, the advisers:
- Unanimously approved a letter asking the state to adopt the recommendations of a University of Vermont study that examined how Vermont finances public education. A task force recently dodged the opportunity to certify the recommendations, instead presenting two reform models to choose from when the legislature resumes next month.
- Allowed to spend up to $ 192,150 on a Fletcher Free Library overhaul contract.
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