Public voices concerns with Burlington charter changes

Written by
April Burbank
Free Press Staff Writer

The controversy over Burlington’s four proposed charter changes continued Friday at a special public hearing that brought dozens of people to Burlington City Hall.

The council has approved four proposed charter changes for the March ballot:
• A redistricting proposal that would establish eight wards and four larger districts represented by a total of 12 councilors;
• A ban on guns in bars and other establishments with a first-class liquor license;
• A measure that would allow police to seize firearms from suspected domestic abusers;
• And a requirement that all guns in the city be stored in locked containers or using trigger locks.

Robert Bristow-Johnson, who has been involved in the city’s redistricting process, asked the council to use another version of the redistricting map — one that he said would minimize the impacts on the current Ward 6 and improve the chances of passage.

The majority of public comments, however, related to the gun-related charter changes.

Sally Kerschner of the Vermont Public Health Association spoke in support of the three measures.

“In public health, we work to prevent or control events that cause injury, thus reducing the risk of disability and death. … These proposed ordinances reflect the research about effective measures to reduce gun violence and are grounded in a valid public health approach,” Kerschner said.

Althea Vassiliades, executive director of an organization called Lock It Inc., spoke in support of the safe storage charter change, telling the story of a loved one who “lost his life simply because a gun was not locked.”

As in the City Council meetings in which the measures were originally discussed, many of the audience members wore hunter orange to demonstrate their support for gun rights.

“In Vermont, we do not have a firearm problem,” said Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont. “… What you’re saying is, we can’t be trusted.”
Chris Bradley of Northfield, acting president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said the gun-related charter changes would impose restrictions on citizens who have not broken the law.

“What you’re really doing is you’re attacking people like me,” Bradley said.

Another public hearing on the charter changes is scheduled for 7 p.m., Monday.

Contact April Burbank at (802) 660-1863.