Burlington planning commission gets new chairman

The chairmanship of Burlington’s planning and zoning commission has amicably passed to a senior member who, a year ago, made an unsuccessful bid to oust the group’s previous chairman from power.

During a regular monthly meeting on Monday, the commission’s members unanimously voted to bestow the gavel on John Black, and, in doing so, ended the decade-long chairmanship of Richard Parker, whom Black had failed to unseat in his previous play for the commission’s top-ranking spot.

Originally installed on the commission in 2005, Black has long held the distinction of being the longest serving member of this appointed advisory board. In fact, Black boasts several years of seniority over Parker, who first joined the commission in 2010 and took over as chairman in 2012.

Despite the superlative length of his tenure, Black initially agreed to let Parker lay claim to the gavel and contented himself with the position of “secretary.” That post was later rechristened as “vice chair” when Burlington’s city council conducted a wholesale overhaul of the planning commission a little less than a decade ago.

Black’s stint as Parker’s second in command ultimately came to an abrupt end in 2022, when he forfeited the position of vice chairman in order to make a run at the planning commission’s top post. Although his coup attempt faltered, Black remained in the group’s rank and file while his former position as vice chairman passed to a junior colleague – James Kirkpatrick.

Prior to Black’s selection as chairman Monday night, Kirkpatrick was formally sworn in to another term on the commission in view of his recent reappointment by Burlington’s city council. The same oath of office was also administered to newly-appointed alternate Hillary Hill and Ethan Raynor, a former alternate whom the council has now elevated to full membership on the commission. Then, with these formalities complete, the planning commission’s members confirmed Kirkpatrick to the position of vice chairman by a margin of 6-to-0.

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The oath of office was administered Monday night to newly-appointed alternate Hillary Hill and Ethan Raynor, a former alternate whom the council has now elevated to full membership on the commission.

A moment later, Black also received a nod from all six members on hand to serve as the commission’s new chairman. Among those who openly declared their support for this change was Parker, who continues to serve as a rank-and-file member of this appointed advisory board.

The commission’s regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday was effectively the last opportunity for Black to secure the group’s chairmanship due to the term limits that Burlington’s city council has imposed on its appointees to the city’s advisory boards and commissions.

Although members of these boards are technically limited to three terms of three years apiece, Black and Parker have been able to remain in office much longer due to the council’s aforementioned overhaul of the planning commission, which more or less reset the clock on the tenures of its veteran members. Since then, however, both Parker and Black have begun to approach their respective ceilings – with Parker scheduled to be term limited out in 2025 and Black in the summer of 2024. Upon his elevation to the chairmanship, Black took a moment to propose an additional term limit on the commission’s top-ranking position, which had remained Parker’s sole province since 2012.

“I would like the [city’s planning] staff to look into time limitations for chairs – perhaps five years and then he can step down for one year,” the newly-installed chairman suggested. “I have always thought term limits are important for government. [And that’s] no reflection on you, Richard.”

Black didn’t propose any similar rule for the commission’s vice chairmanship – which he insisted ought to be conferred on someone with experience. He added, however, that the position of chairman may benefit from an occasional injection of “new blood,” which he said could be ensured through an official policy.