The Paramount Theater became the scene of a wholly nonfictional drama on Tuesday as the members of Burlington’s city council commandeered this city-owned playhouse for their final meeting of 2021.
The focus of this gathering, which drew an unusually large crowd by the standards of the city council, was to swear in the winners of last month’s municipal election, where the office of mayor as well as two regular seats on the council had been up for grabs.
The mayor’s race ultimately ended with the victory of long-time councilman Jim Butler over the city’s incumbent mayor Ian Baltutis.
The city’s voters also selected incumbent councilman Harold Owen to serve another four years on the council, and they awarded Butler’s old council seat to Burlington’s former mayor Ronnie Wall, who returned to politics this year after a six-year hiatus from public life.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, each of the three victors were joined on the stage by select family members as the formal oath of office was administered to them by Burlington’s former city clerk Beverly Smith.
In Wall’s case, the supporting cast consisted of his wife Susie and their grandsons Baxter and Charlie Johnson;
while Owen was joined by his wife Denane and their grandsons Jake and Cam Beck;
and Butler was flanked by his wife Kim and their three adult children – Megan, Nathan, and Grayson.
A second oath was later administered to Owen individually after his fellow council members unanimously selected him to serve as the city’s new mayor pro tem.
Yet, in one of his first acts as Burlington’s new mayor, Butler made it clear that the council wouldn’t stand solely on ceremony by giving each of his colleagues an opportunity to share their priorities for the city’s municipal government in the coming year.
In addition to economic development, which ranked high on each council member’s to-do list, councilman Kathy Hykes called for some action on the issues of housing, hunger, and homelessness and expressed her desire to extend the city’s prosperity to all members of the community.
Hykes’ concern for the less fortunate was echoed by Butler, who also aired a catalog of other priorities, including the redevelopment of Burlington’s former Western Electric plant, the construction of a rec center on the city’s west side, and better compensation for members of Burlington’s municipal staff.
In the end, Butler emphasized that it will be these issues of substance rather than the spectacle of political theater that will be front and center during his term as Burlington’s mayor.
“There’s a lot of issues out there that this council will be working on,” he went on to sum up. “I wanted everybody to know that because, while this [meeting] was largely ceremonial, there are real issues we’re going to be working on.”