Members of AFSCME Local 1674, which represents Howard Center employees, voted overwhelmingly in support of the Community Control of Police charter change, according to a press release on Friday. Burlington voters will decide on Town Meeting Day whether or not to advance ballot item #7 and send it to the Vermont Legislature and Governor Scott for approval.
“Howard Center workers believe this change is consistent with our values and in the best interests of our clients, coworkers, and the wider Burlington community,” said Howard Center employment advisor and Local 1674 President Andy Blanchet.
While Howard Center workers want more police accountability and community oversight, this position appears to be at odds with that of Howard Center leadership. In a Thursday press release from the mayor’s office, Howard Center Director of Evaluation and Outcomes Matthew MacNeil expressed Howard Center leadership’s opposition to the charter change, highlighting the “best interests” of the people who “live, work, and visit” Burlington.
Community Control of Police was put on the ballot via petition after Mayor Weinberger vetoed a similar plan. “The public expects movement on the issue of police oversight and accountability,” Blanchet wrote in an email with The Rake Vermont. They continued:
“Social workers, teachers, & nurses understand what it means to work with oversight and have accountability to those we are entrusted to provide support. There have been public incidents of violence and loss of life at the hands of Burlington Police officers. In turn, we have seen clients and coworkers experience real harm from the lack of accountability shown by police officers for misconduct.”
This schism between Howard Center leadership and its workers regarding police accountability and transparency has appeared in the recent past.
In late 2020, Howard Center conducted an investigation into former Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo’s alleged misconduct in the harassment of a former Howard Center worker. Del Pozo remained on the Howard Center Board of Trustees for the duration of the investigation, resigning after its conclusion. While del Pozo’s erstwhile colleagues on the Howard Center Board chose to keep the outcome of the investigation from public eyes, Local 1674 petitioned for del Pozo’s immediate removal. (Note: the former Howard Center worker is a Rake Vermont editor.)
Howard Center employees have regular and consistent encounters with the police, to a likely much greater extent than upper management does. Blanchet wrote that the over-policing of the populations they serve “can often interfere with our clients receiving further care.”
Organizational managers and owners in Burlington have habitually advocated for harsher policing regimes. In fall 2021, owners in the Burlington Business Association pushed for a greater police presence on Church Street and more leeway to expel residents from the area.
While the Howard Center is a non-profit, its leaders’ political priorities appear to be largely the same as the city’s business class. At a recent event calling for more funding of services and the Community Control of Police ballot measure, Blanchet explained that many decisions made in designated agencies like the Howard Center are made by “the same people who buy into the illusion of safety and rehabilitation provided by the carceral systems.”
Photos of Andy Blanchet and Matthew MacNeil courtesy CCTV Center for Media & Democracy, BY-NC-SA.