Blink and you might have missed it. Though the South Burlington City Council looks identical to that which was elected last year, members reorganized on Monday, March 9.
During the council’s first regular meeting post-election, members resumed their duties with all incumbents maintaining their former roles. Council meetings were set for the first and third Mondays of each month, at 6:30 p.m.
In a 4-0 vote, Helen Riehle regained her post as chair, Meaghan Emery as vice chair, and Tim Barritt as clerk. Councilor Thomas Chittenden was late to the meeting and was not present for the decision.
The council also approved all city staff up for appointment, including the city treasurer, zoning administrator, emergency management director and health officer.
Councilors once again selected The Other Paper as the city’s newspaper of record. TD Bank was maintained as the city’s bank and Barritt remained the council’s representative to the pension advisory committee.
“I really thank you for your support and electing me chair again,” Riehle said. “It’s humbling, it’s really an honor and a privilege.”
Riehle told the council she would continue to serve as openly, thoughtfully and respectfully as possible. She added that the unique skills and perspectives of the council members was helpful in making good decisions.
“Even though we come at things in different ways, with different skill sets and ideas, I think this is a place where we can all be heard,” Riehle said, adding she would make sure the council and public were being heard. While the city and school maintain distinct budgets and bonds, Riehle said the council will continue to work on coordination with the district.
“We have an enormous list of things to complete,” she said. “I think this continues to be a really exciting time for the city; there’s almost too much going on.”
Public comment, a word on campaign spending
Following the reorganizational meeting, resident and former city councilor Rosanne Greco offered public comment. Greco reflected on the recent election, examining campaign expenditures for the two-year city council seat. She suggested the council consider passing an ordinance to cap campaign spending on local elections or pass a non-binding resolution encouraging candidates to limit their campaign spending.
“After seeing the lawn signs, the direct mailings, the flyers, the print ads, the broadcast ads, the social media ads, the social media postings, I suspected an exorbitant amount of money was being spent on one city council seat,” Greco said, in reference to the contested race for the two-year city council seat.
Current totals show Emery’s campaign expenditures were $4,322.86, and Cota’s campaign expenditures were $17,905.55, according to the Secretary of State’s website. Final reports are due by April 12, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Greco said that in 2011, when she ran for council, the four candidates vying for the seat spent a combined total of about $1,000.
“Money in politics is ruining our country,” Greco said. “We’ve all heard commentaries about national political candidates trying to buy elections. Is this what is happening in South Burlington?”
Greco said increased campaign expenditures could make for future campaigns in which only the wealthy or those with wealthy supporters could run for office. She added that in that scenario, only wealthy people or those backed by wealthy special interest groups would be making decisions for the city.
“Do we want councilors whose loyalties may be to the special interest groups who financed their election,” she asked. “Rather, we need councilors who put the needs of the residents first.”
Resident Sarah Dopp also weighed in.
“This is a nationwide problem that is destroying our country,” Dopp said. “Like most things, the only solutions seem to be at the local level.”
School Board members maintain posts
All school board members maintained their respective posts following the reorganizational portion of their March 5 meeting. In a unanimous vote, Elizabeth Fitzgerald resumed her duties as chair, Bridget Burkhardt as clerk and Brian Minier to sign contracts for the board.
Burkhardt and Alex McHenry were re-elected on Town Meeting Day for their two-year and three-year posts, respectively.