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Mayor Weinberger On Immigration, Burlington Development And The Opioid Crisis

In his annual State of the City address, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said "the state of the City is a state of emergency".
Taylor Dobbs
On Monday, Burlington's Mayor Miro Weinberger delievered his state of the city address. He outlined his priorities for the city over the next year.

On Monday, Burlington's Mayor Miro Weinberger gave his State of the City speech, setting his goals and priorities for the Queen City over the next year. VPR spoke to Weinberger to learn more about his vision.

The Democratic mayor opened the address with a strong condemnation of President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration, calling the changes a “breathtaking departure from America’s traditional role in the world” and “morally wrong.”


In the speech, Weinberger also discussed infrastructure developments for the city, increasing the size of the police and fire departments and the opiate crisis.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full interview above.

VPR: In your speech, you were very clear about your opposition to President Trump's immigration policy. But even before that order was signed, you announced you wanted Burlington to become a sanctuary city. Where is the city in that process?

Weinberger: “We're continuing to do what we've always done or long done, which is, we don't ask about immigration status when we're conducting our routine policing or really providing any other city services.

“We think that that is actually the way to keep Burlington's safest, that no one has a concern when they're considering calling the police or reporting some sort of incident, that their immigration status or [that of] someone they know is going to somehow be a problem.

“We wanted to formalize this, codified in city policy and work with the [city] council, and the council sent it to the police commission, and the police commission still has a little more work to do.

"We think that that is actually the way to keep Burlington's safest, that no one has a concern when they're considering calling the police or reporting some sort of incident, that their immigration status or [that of someone they know] is going to somehow be a problem." - Mayor Miro Weinberger

“But we do expect that that will be completed fairly soon, but the fact that it's taken some time hasn't changed anything about the way this city conducts itself.”

Are you concerned about losing any federal funding  if you formalize Burlington’s status as a sanctuary city?

“Yes. We think what we're doing is consistent with federal law. If that were to be challenged, and it could be challenged ... there is one small Justice Department grant that could be at risk. That's about a $40,000 grant.

“That could change. One of the hallmarks of the Trump presidency is the uncertainty that the president has created in so many areas, and if federal law were to change we'd have to address that and understand what the implications would be.

“It's very hard to kind of speculate exactly where this could go, but people should know we're paying close attention to it and we're not certainly not trying to put in jeopardy large amounts of federal funding.”

How are you trying to balance the desire to develop and expand Burlington with those people who are pushing back against some of these proposed plans?

“We try to listen very carefully to those voices of concern. If they look at where the redevelopment of the Burlington Town Center started more than two years ago versus the design that was just approved by the development review board, anyone who kind of looks at that and thinks about the change that has gone through in that period of time — streets being added, better interaction between the buildings and the streets outside, step backs on the upper stories, very substantial amounts of affordable housing — that came as a result of public input.”

Some people were concerned that some of the buildings might be too high and Burlington might lose its current character.

“I don't think this policy change is happening too quickly. This is something that we've had a planning commission and city council joint committee working on for more than two years and we got it through a lot of public process already and there will be more process in the months ahead. I think it's time to get it done. However, I did ask the council to get that work done over the next 120 days.”

In your address, you said you’re planning to add some new police officers and firefighters. Is the money there in the budget to hire all these new people?

“Yes. The budget that I will submit, it will have the money to do those expansions, the first expansions we've had in 15 years. And we're going to be able to do that without the general city tax increase.

“But the firefighters, the change there is largely going to pay for itself. We found that we use overtime seven out of 10 days to staff our fire department, and we are going to be able to bring on one new firefighter per shift. More than two-thirds that will be paid by reduced overtime costs. On the police side, it's not overtime reductions. We do have a new federal grant that we were able to secure ... that will share the costs of expanding the police department over a three-year period.

“I don't want to suggest this is going to be free. We are able to do it without a tax increase this year.”

It sounds like this federal grant is very important for getting these new police officers hired. Could that be at risk  if the Trump administration decides that Burlington is not following their wishes when it comes to immigration?

“The federal money is part of how we're doing this, it's less than half of it, it's about 45 percent of the total cost. That could become an issue that we will have to address.

“You know, stepping back, it’s hard for me to see a federal court saying the city of Burlington, 'You don't get to conduct your local policing in a way that you think keeps your community safe.' That's something that's been delegated to cities to take the lead on, and that's what we're doing here.”

Are there going to be any specific initiatives you're proposing to deal with the opioid crisis?

“The scale the scope of this problem is just stunning. We are going to have to create systems that we don't have today. We are going to need to make, I believe, very substantial investments and see some real cultural change in our prevention efforts to stop creating new addictions.

"We are going to have to create systems that we don't have today we are going to need to make, I believe, very substantial investments and see some real cultural change in our prevention efforts to stop creating new addictions." — Mayor Weinberger

“Certainly our treatment system is short of achieving treatment without delay, which I think is a critical strategy in turning things around.

“And we run this monthly meeting we call CommunityStat, which tries to get all of the dozens of parties that have a role in the solution here together sorting out the long list of changes that we're going to need to get this done.

“There's not one or two solutions are going to change this. It's whole long list of changes that we need to make to get our way out of it, but we will do it.”

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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