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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

WVMT monthly interview with Mayor Kiss

Just listened to our Mayor's monthly commentary & interview on WVMT, and I'll summarize a few of the points of the 20 minute segment for you here:
  • Sanctuary city update:
    • Mayor Kiss is currently waiting for City Attorney McNeil's report about the issue before he proceeds wtih anything
    • A caller had just suggested that he'd much rather see US citizen child molesters given amnesty rather than illegal immigrants.
      Quite a viewpoint to take on the issue... just an example of how controversial the issue is becoming.
  • About the new UVM alcohol policy: City is set to have meetings with UVM about the policy, Mayor Kiss would have liked to have known about the new policy *before* it was given publicity.
  • FY 07 Budget was handed out at Monday's Council meeting. The tax increase will put the city 'in good shape'
  • Also, Mayor Kiss is set to participate in this weekend's Vermont City Marathon
For those interested, Mayor Kiss makes a monthly visit to the Charlie & Ernie show the 4th Wednesday of month at 8AM.


Anonymous said...

So nice to see them jack up the CEDO budget by $100K. Nothing like fiscal responsibility.

Anonymous said...

Pot should be legal. Who does it hurt?

Heavenly said...

Also, for those unaware, here's an article about Mayor Kiss in the latest Vermont Guardian:
(Warning, kinda long...)

Honeymoon Kiss: Burlington’s mayor quietly gets to work
By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted May 26, 2006

After every election, politicians often experience a honeymoon — a period when their rivals and the media let them settle in.

During his honeymoon, Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss has been meeting city employees, touring facilities, caucusing with citizen and business leaders, throwing out the first pitch to open the Little League season, scooping ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s on free cone day, and speaking at the Burlington Business Association’s annual meeting.

This soft-spoken former three-term legislator is receiving kudos from many Burlington residents who didn’t support him for mayor, or just didn’t get to meet him.

“I was sworn in on a Monday night, and we had our first city department heads meeting on Tuesday,” Kiss said.

He admits that he’s got a lot more to learn about the mayoral balancing act as both an administrator and a kind of cheerleader and welcoming party.

“I think people have been incredibly generous in these first months,” said Kiss. “You talk about a honeymoon — members of the business community and others have been pretty optimistic in the discussions I’ve had with them, despite some of the real challenges we face.”

At an immigration rally earlier this month, Kiss said he wanted the city consider becoming a “sanctuary city” like some 60 other communities around the country.

Critics pounced on the statement, saying the mayor was going off on a tangent and proposing new ideas without vetting them through the council.

Not so, says Kiss.

“What I said was that I had asked the city attorney to look into ramifications of becoming a sanctuary city,” said Kiss, who believes such a designation would not be putting out a welcome mat to illegal immigrants, as some have charged, but rather, making sure that illegal immigrants living in Burlington would not be denied emergency services or other programs solely based on their immigration status.

“My interest here is, in part, responding to the whole discussion at the federal level,” said Kiss. “The proposal to have 11 million people become felons over their immigration status — that sort of spirit is something we ought to oppose. We’ve allowed millions of people to come into the United States to provide labor for many companies, and we should be trying to put in place an honorable process to updating someone’s immigration status.”

City Councilor Kurt Wright, a Republican, said he saw the sanctuary city statement as a sign that some voters might be willing to forgo the honeymoon.

“He made a major misstep calling for Burlington to be a sanctuary for illegal aliens, and a lot of people came up to me after they heard about it and said, ‘Who is this guy and how did we elect him and can we recall him?’ ” Wright said. “At that moment it was good thing there was not a recall election, because I think a lot of people were upset by it, especially given what dire straits we’re in” financially.

Wright said he also didn’t like the way that the idea was broached without alerting the City Council first.

The flak over the sanctuary city proposal was the first time that Kiss has drawn much attention.

His quiet approach to the job has been a topic of discussion in the media, as well as among long-time pols, most of whom are accustomed to more charismatic and outgoing mayors.

Unlike his predecessors, Kiss is soft spoken, and, to date, less compelled to hold press conferences to announce every new initiative. He’s only held one press conference since taking office in early April — to announce the formation of a citizen committee to find ways to fix the pension fund shortfall and the budget deficit.

That doesn’t mean he’s holed up in City Hall poring over budget spreadsheets. He’s appeared three times on the Charlie & Ernie show on local radio station WVMT-AM to talk about city issues, and at other major city events such as Kid’s Day, Green Up Day, and the Way to Go Commuter Week launch, and will be the opening runner in the city’s relay contingent in the Vermont City Marathon on Sunday.

Tackling the big issues

Kiss, a Progressive, was elected on Town Meeting Day in the nation’s first mayoral election determined by instant runoff voting (IRV), defeating a Democrat, a Republican, and two independents. He assumed his role in early April.

The March 7 election marked a new era for the Queen City. It became the first time in nearly a generation that the city’s top job would not be held by either independent Bernie Sanders or Progressive-turned-Democrat Peter Clavelle.

One of the looming issues in the campaign was the projected $1.3 million deficit Clavelle anticipated in the fiscal year 2007 budget, and emerging shortfalls in the city’s employee pension fund.

During the campaign, Kiss pledged to increase citizen input into the city’s budget process, as well as bring in fresh perspectives to deal with the pending problems.

He has lived up to that promise early on, appointing a blue ribbon committee of community leaders and city councilors to help fix the city’s pension system, and another special committee to focus specifically on a budget proposal for fiscal year 2007, which must be approved by July 1. That committee, along with other residents, will then begin to look at the 2008 spending plan.

The proposed FY07 budget, which calls for a nearly six-cent property tax increase, closes not only a $1.3 million budget shortfall, but also helps to backfill a deficit from last year’s budget; it sets aside money to rebuild the city’s rainy day fund, which has been substantially depleted, and restores $11 million to the city’s pension fund, Kiss said.

This will be the first municipal property tax increase in the municipal budget in several years, and Kiss said he doesn’t anticipate any further increases in the tax rate to cover city expenses.

Of the proposed tax increase, 4.7 cents are being used to fully fund the city’s obligation for its pension system, which has been underfunded for several years, in part due to stock market losses.

Councilors had little to say at the May 22 meeting, but are expected to weigh in over the next several weeks.

While Kiss was able to convene two special task forces, he expects to expand that outreach for the next budget and possibly other initiatives as well.

“The next budget process will include more people and be a longer process so when you have to make difficult decisions you have more people involved in making those decisions,” he said.

Kiss said that while the proposed FY07 budget is proving tough to balance, it’s pretty much what he expected.

“To be honest Peter [Clavelle] signaled that FY07 would be a more difficult budget year than prior years,” said Kiss. “Every year, he had to work hard to bring the budget in to fit the needs of the city, but this year he was looking at a $1.3 million gap.”

Some of that deficit will be filled with the new local option sales tax that Burlington voters approved in March. After receiving early approval from the Legislature and governor, since the local option tax required a charter change, the City Council agreed at its May 22 meeting to officially implement the tax on July 1.

City leaders did not anticipate getting the tax in place until Jan. 1; that means about $1.6 million for the city, or $800,000 more than anticipated. However, that extra money will be used to plug a hole in the city’s reserve fund rather than be put toward the pension fund deficit.

Wright said many taxpayers might be disappointed to find out that even with the local option sales tax, property taxes will go up.

Reaching out

In forming the two special committees to review the budget and the pension fund, Kiss drew from Progressives, Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

However, Wright points out that Kiss’ initial budget committee did not have a Republican on the panel. After he pointed this out, Kiss appointed Gene Richards, the CEO of Spruce Mortgage.

Richards, in his initial interactions, said he has been impressed with Kiss’ commitment to tackling the tough issues he was handed.

“As a taxpayer, I feel really good about the committee’s work,” said Richards. “I think he’s in a tough situation, but I don’t know what the solution is right now. It’s going to be a team approach if we’re going to get results.”

Kiss also has taken the time to meet with other business leaders, including two meetings with the influential Burlington Business Association.

Within three days of taking office, he agreed to speak at the group’s April meeting, at which 140 business owners attended — all to meet him and find out what he’s all about.

“He’s been really delightful,” said Nancy Wood, the association’s executive director. “I’d say he is starting the job with a great deal of grace and willingness to meet with everybody — from city employees to citizen groups and business leaders.”

Wood, who also serves on Kiss’ special budget committee, said Kiss faces some serious fiscal problems in the coming years, but by reaching out to more constituencies is more likely to get a broad range of ideas.

She called the budget task force “vitally important” to keeping the deficit under control, but acknowledged that difficult choices may have to be made down the road, including possible downsizing, or restructuring how some services are provided, since most businesses and residents would not like to see a decline in the level of services they receive.

Kiss agrees that tough choices may lie ahead that may require city employees, residents, and other leaders to help determine what’s best for the city. He said the city has no plans to add any employees under the current budget scenario.

Other long-term Burlington residents, and political observers, agree that Kiss faces some steep uphill battles and taking criticism from voters who may not separate out the origin of the budget problems from the mayor who is trying to fix the problem.

“Bob Kiss is a nice guy, there is no question about that, but he is in a very difficult spot, and I think he would like to introduce some initiatives, but right now he is constrained by the financial realities,” said John Ewing, who supported the Democrat — state Sen. Hinda Miller — in the mayoral race. He added that other communities are facing tight budgets and possible tax increases, so Burlington is not unique.

“The pension issue also not unique to Burlington,” said Ewing, who was tapped by Kiss to sit on the pension fund committee.

Ewing praised Kiss’ appointment of Jonathon Leopold, a former city treasurer under the Sanders administration, as chief administrative officer.

“He is very smart, very skilled, and very focused on what he has to do,” Ewing said. “And that is the optimistic part of what is happening right now — he is certainly on top of the pension issue.”

Playing politics

City councilors are also using Kiss’ honeymoon period to determine how they will interact with the new administration, especially since most have only served with one long-time mayor in office.

“Bob has been in office for almost two months now and is doing the very unsexy work of going around to every department and finding out how the city works,” said Councilor Tim Ashe, a Progressive.

While this legwork is earning him kudos among city employees, and others among the city commissions and committees, it’s not getting him out in front of many people.

“The downside of that is because it’s a less flashy beginning, it leaves him sort of open to the questions of ‘What’s he doing?” said Ashe.

Ashe supports Kiss’ appointment of the two special committees, though he admits that during the campaign he thought many voters didn’t grasp Kiss’ idea.

“On the one hand, however, from a hostile partisan standpoint, I ask myself where the hell are our people on these committees,” said Ashe. But, he said the people on the committees — whether Democrats or Republicans — do seem qualified and will bring a lot to the process.

Ashe said the City Council is seeing an opportunity with a new mayor at the helm to be more proactive and push more initiatives, rather than respond to administrative proposals.

At a recent annual meeting to set priorities for the year, the council agreed that it might be able to get out in front on more issues than they could during Clavelle’s tenure.

“With the new administration, I’ve been a little bit more aggressive about it happening and asserting myself more, and because there is this initiative vacuum,” said Ashe. “There are all of these low-hanging fruits and it’s a matter of who is going to go out and grab them.”

Wright agrees.

“I think there’s potential for the council to be more active, because you have a mayor getting his feet wet and is not a strong-willed personality and a very quiet figure,” said Wright. “There is no question that Bob Kiss is a very different type of mayor from Peter Clavelle.”

Ashe said some old ideas and initiatives from the council and city employees — many of which were never given much of hearing during the Clavelle administration — may resurface.

For example, Ashe has long been a proponent of having each city department create annual performance reports to better describe to taxpayers the kind of work done each year, and how that compares to past years, annual expectations, and cities of similar size. Ashe said such reports are good for both taxpayers and the city councilors.

Once he is up to speed on how the city functions, and its various movers and shakers, Kiss said he expects to be more proactive as a mayor.

He plans to maintain more open communication between the mayor’s office and the school department, and has been hosting several summits on everything from health care to making the city safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

“I’m hoping, and these two committees are a beginning, to welcome these new ideas and create a climate to do that,” said Kiss. “The election was an optimistic statement from the voters: They supported the local option tax, our neighborhood schools, and elected a Progressive. That’s a positive statement and I plan to work off of that statement by the voters of Burlington.”

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's quite an intelligent comment from the guy who talked about child molesters. I'm sure Kiss was pleased to have spent an hour of his time with listeners like that.

Anonymous said...

"Kiss faces some steep uphill battles and taking criticism from voters who may not separate out the origin of the budget problems from the mayor who is trying to fix the problem."

Correction - they correctly do not separate out the origin of the budget problems from the PARTY of the mayor. As a simple placeholder for the Progs, he owns the problem.