Our daily routines — no matter how personal, joyful, or mundane — happen in the context of a local government that affects the quality of our lives. We elect our friends, neighbors, and wise or energized community voices with a simple faith in their ability and willingness to steer government forward toward more fairness in how consequential decisions are made. When our little local democracy comes up short, the quality of all our lives is diminished, in part because our faith and expectations are disappointed.
It might be that the patterns of governance that we inherit are comfortable and we’re unwilling to examine their quality. Or, the healthy sustained critique of the status quo that is our civic duty has been normalized as antagonism by those who are invited into conversations that are too challenging. In either case, without awakening to the need to sustain democracy by actively stewarding it, the city and its systems of government will not improve. In one circumstance, this need is especially well demonstrated.
These are my public comments to City Council at the April 2 organizational meeting. They shine a light where light hasn’t shown for a while, and where — with a little attention and alignment with democratic ideals — the city could provide more of the fairness we ask from it. One-on-one conversations with City Councilors have been promising, but optimism about the future is not the same as a healthy democracy now.
I want to send congratulations out to the mayor and newly elected councilors, especially to Brian Pine who I’ll be proud to have represent me in Ward 3.
During this election we saw many candidates say that Burlington needs more transparency and more citizen voices welcomed into decisions in city government. As people like me have spoken up since 2014 to ask for more transparency and representation in how our arts office is governed, we were told by BCA leadership that “the lack of response is the response.”
While we were asking for more representation for the arts community, including music and theater and dance, the board of BCA voted to allow the annual re-election of board members who had already completed the three three year terms allowed by its bylaws. Thirty percent of our city’s arts office advisory board is now, in practical terms, permanent and has been there for more than ten years. 30% of the board will never be new voices.
At a meeting of the Parks Arts and Culture Committee, the director of BCA described these permanent voting board seats as “rewards.” If the mayor were to declare that one-third of the city council were to hold permanent voting seats, and the mayor were to call those seats “rewards,” would you be ok with it? Or would you be inspired to do the job of leadership?
You were elected because you’re trusted to steward our democracy and make us proud of it. Burlington’s city charter says that you, the city council, is responsible for oversight of BCA. If fairness and transparency is going to happen there it will be because you – as a person with integrity and as an elected representative — choose to live up to the values that got you elected.
Channel 17 Town Meeting TV provides a video of the statement.