The Burlington Business Association and Mayor Weinberger Rigged the Downtown Improvement District Process

This is Part 3 of a 4 Part series on how Mayor Weinberger and the Burlington Business Association don’t represent regular Burlingtonians and are using their influence to push a rushed and rigged Downtown Improvement District that gives a handful of wealthy folks even more power at the expense of actual Burlington residents. Parts 1, 2, 4, are here.

The Burlington Downtown Improvement District was rigged from the starts, with the vast majority of members coming from the Business Community, particularly the Burlington Business Association.

I came across a document (also shared by other community members just a few days ago) that was way too important to save. It shows the level of coziness and conflicts that exists between our elected officials and businesses in Burlington.

6 out of 9 members of the Downtown Improvement District Advisory Committee were either directly picked by, owned businesses that were members of, or have business partners that work for, the Burlington Business Association.

A total of 66% of the committee members were directly influenced by the Burlington Business Association, and 89% were influenced by the BBA or by the Mayor, who seems to favor the BBA over other local political advocacy groups.

In an RFP written by the Burlington Business Association in 2017 for the new Downtown ‘Improvement’ District, I came across two parts that raise serious concerns about the entire process as we vote in a couple days to privatize our downtown and put it in he hands of a select wealthy few.

First, the RFP discusses the DID working group. Do you know anything about them, like maybe how many public meetings they had? Hard to tell, but a quick Google search suggests few people knew about them and that 0 meetings were open to the public.

The DID Working Group includes representatives from key organizations leading the project for the City of Burlington. It includes a single representation from the following organizations: a.) Burlington Business Association, Kelly Devine b.) Church Street Marketplace BID, Ron Redmond c.) Community and Economic Development Office, City of Burlington, Gillian Nanton d.) Department of Public Works, Patrick Mulligan 2 This group meets regularly, up to weekly. This group will work closely with the selected contractor to provide input, direction and local leadership on the project. They will serve as the key point of contact for the contractor. Kelly Devine of the Burlington Business Association will be the key contact and will call on DID Working Group members to support this effort as needed and as their areas of expertise warrant.

Okay but at least the DID Advisory Group was democratic, open to the public, and received input from lots of citizens, yes?

Turns out Google also comes up with a whopping 0 results for any meeting times or announcements of public meetings made by the advisory group. But I did find a city document suggesting 21 people voted on the question of a DID in a ‘Town Meeting’. Yes, 21 people, along with the 9 DID advisory members, may have decided all of this for us.

Downtown Improvement District Advisory Committee Members with Nominating Organization

City Council: Councilor Adam Roof
● City Council: Downtown Resident – to be appointed
● Church Street Marketplace: Jeff Nick, Chair
● Mayor Weinberger – Legal Professional – Robert DiPalma, Paul, Frank & Collins, Burlington Resident
● Mayor Weinberger – Financial Professional – vetting of candidates underway
● BBA Nominee, Downtown Property Owner – David Schilling, Investors Corp of Vermont
● BBA Nominee, Downtown Office Tenant – Ashley Bond, University of Vermont Medical Center Manager of Property and Real Estate
● BBA Nominee, Downtown Retail Tenant – Kara Alnaswari, Leibling
● BBA Nominee, Marketing Professional – Rich Price, Select Design

Please, think about this.

The committee that has been paraded around as fully supporting the privatization plan was formed 4/9ths by the BBA, 2/9ths by the Mayor who supports and works closely with the BBA, 1/9th the Church Street Marketplace Chair who is a member of the BBA, 1/9th a citizen chosen by the council and 1/9th Councilor Roof who runs a business in a clear conflict of interest with an employee of the BBA (and his roommate).

Councilor Adam Roof (I, Ward 8) clear conflict of interest voting on items that are submitted by and affect the Burlington Business Association and his Business Partner.

As Councilor Roof so eloquently stated about the vote,

…he was excited that after nearly two years of work the proposal was before the council to send to the Charter Change Committee.  “From the beginning there was one real guiding principle that we knew we must operate from if this eventual proposal was going to earn the support of a majority of this council and of course the voting public. We must ensure this proposal be built upon a foundation of both common ground and common good in so far that it must deliver both economic and social vitality to our downtown for the benefit of our entire community. I believe that after a lot of work this proposal strikes that balance.”

Could anyone help me understand how this Downtown ‘Improvement’ District process was done in a thoughtful, democratic way, where the vast majority of residents and workers were fairly represented in this drastic change, and how the public was included in this advisory committee? Because this looks like crony capitalism to me.

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