Montpelier protects construction workers hired for municipal projects

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A union electrician from Colchester recently told the Montpelier City Council, “We built your city, but we can’t afford to live in it.” She was on hand again Wednesday night as the council took action to address her concern.

“We do have members living in Montpelier, but the non-union companies that aren’t paying livable wages with the benefits attached — their employees cannot often live in a city like Montpelier,” Danielle Bombardier of IBEW Local 300 said.

They may now be able to do so, whether they’re unionized or not. The City Council has unanimously passed a responsible contractor ordinance. Construction contractors working on projects for the city must now follow Vermont’s prevailing wage law, classify their workers as employees instead of independent contractors and offer benefits like health care coverage and worker’s compensation insurance.

“I think we have an opportunity to really set a landmark ordinance in this case that would be a beacon for the rest of the state, and hopefully New England and the region here,” Councilor Conor Casey said. He wrote the original draft of the ordinance. The potential penalties for violating the ordinance include stopping construction and withholding payment.

During the meeting, the council members also held a public discussion of the shooting of Mark Johnson. Body cam video of the August incident appears to show him climbing onto the railing of the Spring Street Bridge before coming down and pointing what turned out to be a pellet gun at two Montpelier police officers. One of them, Cpl. Chad Bean, fired two shots, killing Johnson.

“They’re not feeling fear,” former city homelessness task force member Steve Whitaker said during the public discussion. “They can tell the guy would rather jump off the bridge, but they talk him down and then they kill him. I mean, that is absolutely unnecessary. There’s no discussion of, ‘should we get mental health over here.”

“You can doubt all you want,” City Manager Bill Fraser replied. “The report was…”

“Oh, I do,” Whitaker interjected.

“…for a person attacking someone with a knife,” Fraser continued. “That’s the call they were responding to. Now, you can know what you know after the fact. This is what they knew at the time.”

The Washington County State’s Attorney and the state Attorney General’s Office both ruled the shooting justified. The A.G.’s office said that Johnson’s pellet gun looked like a pistol and that the officers tried to de-escalate the situation first, but failed.

Montpelier Police Chief Anthony Facos also attended Wednesday night’s meeting. He did not volunteer any remarks, and when Mayor Anne Watson asked if he had anything to add to the discussion of the shooting, he said, “Not at this time.”

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