Home News and Features City Council Roundup: Constraining Public Input, Fireworks, and Homeless Report

City Council Roundup: Constraining Public Input, Fireworks, and Homeless Report

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Front facing picture of city hall, blue sky in background.
City Hall is the seat of Montpelier’s city government. Photo by Carla Occaso.
Who city council meetings are for, public participation in city decisions, open processes, and unpacking the homeless report were front and center during the April 12 Montpelier City Council meeting. 

Public Comment

Maurice Martineau again requested clarification on turkey hunting at Country Club Road, because the season opens on May 1. Mayor Jack McCullough responded by asking Martineau about his formal participation in the planning process and surveys. Martineau said he did not receive email notification about these, and McCullough replied “it’s all on the city’s webpage, if you want to learn the planning process for Country Club Road Property that’s where you would go.” The website does not indicate if hunting is allowed at the property in 2023, which is a city council decision; the next council meeting is April 26. The spring Country Club Road meetings schedule will be available on the website on April 17.

Steve Whitaker noted that for the last three council meetings the agenda materials were not a complete packet for the public. Whitaker asked if Dona Bate, the former city council Central Vermont Public Safety Authority representative, can legally call a meeting for April 13, to close this entity, because this process is in litigation. McCullough did not respond.

Code of Conduct

McCullough proposed the public comment section of city council meetings (also called “general business and appearances”) last only 30 minutes. Councilor Dona Bate noted that the Montpelier Roxbury Public School board “only allows public comment at ‘general public comments’ (section of its agendas). They do not allow the public to comment on each individual item the way we do …. Our meetings are for us … we are giving so much time to the public throughout the meeting. I really want constraint elsewhere, unless it’s a public hearing.” 

Councilors Cary Brown and Sal Alfano supported the existing structure with a strict three-minute time limit per person during the 30-minute general appearance section of the agenda. Brown stated, “It is our meeting with public input.” Alfano addressed Bate, “You are arguing for no public comments … that might benefit us if we hear it.” 

Peter Kellman asked the council to consider its conduct with the public to make people feel comfortable talking. “Hearings are too late for public input. By the time you are at a hearing, people don’t believe anything can change.” The code of conduct was modified to allow the public to not have a dress code, but the public will be asked to remain in their seats during the meeting.

Follow up Discussion on Homelessness Report

The city council and the homelessness task force commissioned Parker Advisors to review data, speak with stakeholders, and provide action recommendations. Councilors discussed the report with a focus on using the city recreation center at 55 Barre Street for a shelter and possible hub for services. See the full story here.

Consent Agenda

Items in this section of the meeting, where the council typically passes a multitude of action items with one motion, were scrutinized by councilors Tim Heney and Sal Alfano. 

Heney asked to remove the Grout Road Bridge Rehab Project, with an estimated cost of $856,608, and the Barre-Main Street intersection traffic signal design, with an estimated cost of $94,000 for the first step, to allow for discussion. The director of the Montpelier Department of Public Works (DPW), Kurt Motyka, spoke to the scope, cost, and funding of the work. The DPW expects funding for the Grout Road bridge from the Capital Improvement Program reserve funds, with the unrestricted fund balance to cover costs over budget. Alfano raised questions about the difference in the bridge bids and suggested that a cost plus with a guaranteed maximum price contract instead of a fixed price, unit contract might decrease the cost estimates in the bids.

Fireworks 

Karen Hanson presented information on the negative impact of fireworks on the environment, on animals, and on people with PTSD caused by exposure to munitions and asked the council to discontinue the use of loud fireworks. McCullough was not sure if the council should consider a fireworks ordinance adoption process, as there are few displays in Montpelier beyond the 4th of July, the National Life Do Good Fest, and the Mountaineers. The city financially supports Montpelier Alive with $32,600 in city funds and provides an additional $4,500 for the 4th of July Celebration. According to Katie Trautz, executive director of Montpelier Alive, it researched costs of alternative firework displays, and the $12,500 traditional fireworks show is the lowest cost that they have found. The council took no action.

Strategic Planning Review 

Assistant city manager Kelly Murphy presented the current strategic plan’s goals and strategies. Every two years the city council develops goals and objectives. This is year two of the current plan; the council decided to maintain current goals, continue to receive updates from the staff, and identify areas for future planning. Heney said that for him Confluence Park is not a top priority. McCullough said “no more city money is going into it. It is on the list, but it is something that we are not really doing.”

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