During Bernie’s first Mayoral term, he faced continuous roadblocks to his agenda from the city’s Board of Aldermen. As a counterpoint, he founded the Burlington Neighborhood Planning Assemblies (NPA) in November 1982 to ensure average citizen’s voices would impact government decisions.
The NPAs are grassroots neighborhood organizations in Burlington’s eight wards that work as neighborhood advocacy groups. These groups improved communications between citizens and local governments, providing a forum for public issues to be discussed and shared. After the Community and Economic Office was created in 1983, it helped facilitate support for the NPA as part of its mission of citizen involvement.
“If I were to characterize Bernie’s legacy, it would be more about civic engagement, frankly, in terms of just the way he involved people in government,” said (Joe) McNeil, former Burlington City Attorney in the 1980s.
“The notion was that most public issues merited the broadest possible public engagement, which the city council did not like initially because that was their province,” McNeil said. “But he convinced people that the city was worth caring about. And the only way to demonstrate care is to participate. And Burlington has stayed an active city from that time.”
From stop signs to major development projects, the NPAs provide an innovative way for citizens to get involved in neighborhood and City infrastructure issues. The projects the NPAs made recommendations on during Bernie’s tenure as Mayor was building the Teen Center at 242 Main and The Children’s Place child care center, the waterfront development project, the tree planting, sidewalk and street repair, and other beautification projects.
Annually NPAs are allocated a budget per Ward to increase capacity to further the mission of the NPAs.
NPAs also elect representatives to a residential board that approves neighborhood development grant applications. This program funds projects that reduce poverty and revitalize low and moderate-income neighborhoods.
Regular NPA topics include:
- Upcoming ballot questions and candidate forums
- Reports from elected and appointed officials
- Presentations from local nonprofits and businesses
- Development projects in the wards