BLM opponents ask why House Committee cut voter-approved ordinance out of bill
By Guy Page
Many opponents of the Black Lives Matters flag and Barre City residents are wondering just how the Vermont Legislature managed to quietly drop a proposed Barre City ordinance approved by voters March 2, limiting flags in City Hall Park to the American, Vermont and POW/MIA flags.
Voters passed the proposed ordinance change 927-529, after a lengthy and acrimonious debate in which Progressive City Council members insisted on flying the Black Lives Matter flag. The outcome was a new flag policy allowing the BLM and many other flags to be flown on a rotating basis, and the proposed charter change that – its supporters hoped – would set in statutory granite that the BLM flag and other ‘political’ flags were not welcome on the city flagpole in City Hall Park.
Several other, less controversial proposed Barre ordinances were approved by the House Government Operations Committee, which is tasked by the Legislature to review all municipal charter changes for approval by the full House. But the flag ordinance was mysteriously absent from H444, the bill they sent out to the floor.
During his report on the bill, Gov Ops member Rep. Peter Anthony (D-Barre) didn’t even mention the dropped flag ordinance until pressed by a freshman lawmaker from Clarendon.
Rep. Art Peterson – West Point graduate, U.S. Army officer for five years, and Republican lawmaker for Clarendon – wanted to know the story behind the missing flag charter change. So during the May 18 meeting of the full House, he asked Anthony, the member of Gov Ops reporting H444 to the full body, to explain. See YouTube video, at 9 minute, 16 second mark. Here’s the slightly-edited transcript:
Rep. Art Peterson (R-Clarendon):
“I think you mentioned there were four items that were passed by the voters. And you reviewed three. Was there another one that didn’t pass muster somehow?
Rep. Peter Anthony (D-Barre): “There was bonding, constable, speed limit….I think you’re referring to one which the committee wanted to take more time and testimony on. It essentially involved limiting the nature of flags that could be flown on city property. I’m not sure that I’m the right person to ask as to why, since it was a committee decision to postpone that particular article. But yes it did pass along with the others – the bonding, constable, finance director etc.. Again there was a separate vote on that and like several of the charters that we have reviewed, some of the pieces that were passed in March are not part of the presentation and that’s true of Barre and was and is through a couple other instances that the that the wider body has already reviewed and and will review in the near future.
House Speaker Jill Krowinski then asked for a vote. A chorus of Ayes are heard. Then a handful of “No’s” were heard.
Rep. Tommy Walz (D), Barre City’s other lawmaker, did not participate in the discussion and was not among the 20 or so lawmakers visible during the Zoom discussion of H444. It’s impossible to tell from the Zoom footage or House Journal if he voted, much less how he voted. He is recorded in the 5/18 House Journal as voting in a separate roll call later on that afternoon.
In an online comment, Walz correctly noted that yesterday’s Vermont Daily Chronicle report “has at least one major inaccuracy: I had no role in removing the flag provision in the proposed charter change. That was done by a vote of the Government Operations Committee and I am not a member of that committee. I was actually okay with retaining the flag provision because it was the will of local voters.”