Continued Concerns about the VTANG Lease Extension

I’ve already posted my full comments on why I personally opposed extending the VTANG lease without first considering the continued housing of the F35 war machines. You can find that full statement on my most recent blog entry.

I’m posting today with the concerns that have persisted for me since the decision resulting from Monday’s City Council meeting. Those concerns now reside with the approach itself that was used to strong-arm the new policy that extends the lease until 2073.  I remain appalled by how 8 people, under the guidance and direction of our exiting Mayor, are able to impact this community for so long without input from impacted stakeholders. This impact will persist well beyond our lifetimes and, for many of us, beyond our children’s lifetimes. As we ponder the climate crisis that was handed to us by policy makers that have preceded us, we have to honestly acknowledge that we are making the very same mistake for future generations with this policy.

I’ve spent nearly my entire professional career as part of the process that adjudicates policy violations within the university environment. Since 2008 I have done this within the Center for Student Conduct at the University of Vermont. I have heard concerns from community members and spoken with countless students about their decisions that impact our neighborhoods and surrounding community, hopefully impacting positive change within each arriving cohort of new students. As part of those responsibilities I have been grateful for the evolving Code of Student Conduct and how consistently those that amend it each year involve our office as stakeholders who will ultimately be asked to interpret those policies as they intersect with student behavior.

Although I would still be fairly considered as new to the process by which policy is created at the state level, I have already witnessed the benefit of first hearing from all impacted stake holders before drafting new laws. The best example I can offer to highlight this is the process by which we are attempting to hear fully from impacted professionals and people with lived experiences within our prison system as we attempt to solve the problem currently presented by the inhumane conditions at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility that houses incarcerated women.

I can speak for a very long time about why I truly embrace my identity as a Progressive Democrat — a fusion P/D candidate.  The Democratic party allowed me to find a home amongst other like-minded individuals in the 1980s as I left my very conservative home to attend college. I am nothing but saddened with how party politics seem to be in the way of fair minded political conversations that guide the process of developing responsive policy in Burlington. And I regret contributing to those dynamics with this statement. Nonetheless, I feel I have to highlight the profound disappointment that has impacted me after watching the decision to extend the lease that was so clearly predetermined by the Democrats that control our City Council.

The decision to extend the lease was made in closed-door executive session, hidden from any public oversight. Our Mayor announced the lease extension just 11 days prior to the Council meeting that would formalize the decision. I watched how the Council disregarded requests to pause the decision until we could engage in a more robust debate on this only moment of leverage that might impact conditions for VTANG before extending the lease until 2073. All requests to pause the discussion were denied by 8 people, thereby closing the door to stakeholder input. This includes the deliberate exclusion of input from our neighboring communities of South Burlington and Winooski that are also impacted by this decision. It is correct to point out that the community of Winooski, the city that falls in the most direct line of impact from the F35 flight path, is our most diverse community in the state of Vermont with the highest concentration of Black and Brown residents. This is precisely what environmental racism looks like.

A commitment to Restorative Justice includes the practice of a core concept called Fair Process. This is a proactive commitment to remaining deliberate about hearing from potentially impacted individuals and communities before creating policies that may potentially cause harm.  Not only did this not occur at Monday’s meeting, all indications suggest that any sort of fair process was strategically disregarded by 8 individuals acting in concert with one another.

I hope we can all keep this profound disappointment in mind as we consider the future leadership of this community.