BURLINGTON, Vt. – The Burlington City Council held a lengthy discussion about ongoing protests within the city, debating whether or not to pass a measure that would allow protesters to continue camping in Battery Park.
The measure was added as an amendment to a larger resolution that reaffirmed the council’s support of protester’s rights under the First Amendment, but was struck down in a 6-6 vote.
The amendment would have added to the resolution that “the City continue to refrain from enforcing anti-camping regulations against those who are camping at Battery Park on a temporary basis,” but that raised concerns for some councilors.
“It speaks about camping on a temporary basis, but does that mean this specific protest, or is it opening it to a process where anyone having a protest of any variety could camp on a temporary basis?” asked Councilor Sarah Carpenter.
“If we don’t enforce this now, do we really need this language to keep not enforcing it?” Councilor Brian Pine added.
Several councilors felt the amendment was necessary following a letter from Mayor Miro Weinberger on Friday that addressed the ongoing encampment:
“The City cannot enforce its park rules differently for one group of citizens than it does for another, and frequently in the past encampments have experienced serious public health and public safety problems… Therefore, the City may notice the encampment and begin issuing civil tickets if you continue to camp in Battery Park.”
Councilor Zoraya Hightower said the Mayor’s letter made the amendment vote necessary.
“The Mayor’s letter made it very clear he was going to start enforcing it, regardless of what happened at Battery Park,” Hightower said. “I don’t necessarily trust, based on the way the Burlington Police Department has represented some of these incidents, their narrative of what is going on at Battery Park.”
Hightower criticized the mayor for “vaguely referring to public safety” as reason to prohibit camping. Weinberger said the amendment would have made it more difficult for action to be taken if the situation grew dangerous for protestors and the public.
“There are good public safety and public health reasons behind why we do not allow camping in our public spaces,” Weinberger said. “I’m not saying language like Councilor Hanson suggested would stop me from acting, but could complicate me from acting if we needed to.”
City Council also entered executive session to discuss protester’s demands to fire three Burlington police officers involved in use of force incidents. City Attorney Eileen Blackwood detailed the legal limitations of doing so during a public portion of the meeting, and councilors discussed other possible options including severance.
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