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Campaign against nukes bombs with Burlington’s city council


It wasn’t nuclear proliferation so much as the spread of political powder kegs that haunted Burlington’s city council this week as its members contemplated a proposed resolution in support of nuclear disarmament.

In the end, a majority of the council decided to wait until March to make a final decision on this symbolic declaration, which a group of local clergy had asked the group to adopt as part of an international campaign to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons.

The council reached this consensus on Monday after its members held lively discussion in response to a formal request from Suzanne Shoffner of Alamance Peace Action to join the 8,045 cities that have reportedly committed to this global campaign.

A former head pastor at Shiloh Presbyterian Church and a current visiting pastor at Macedonia Lutheran, Shoffner had originally pitched this resolution to the council at its final meeting of 2021. Because this meeting had been dominated by swearing-in ceremonies, council member Kathy Hykes invited Shoffner to reiterate her proposal in January. The council subsequently agreed to take up the matter during its next monthly work session held Monday night, January 31.

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During Monday’s discussion, Hykes urged her colleagues to sign the proposed resolution, which calls on the world’s leaders to renounce the use of nuclear arms in light of the “catastrophic, far-reaching, and long-lasting consequences” they pose.

Although Hykes conceded the global scale of the campaign for nuclear disarmament, she also emphasized its importance to individuals much closer to home.

“This is coming from a group of people in Burlington,” she added in regard to the proposed resolution, “a pretty sizeable group who are part of a peace coalition.”

The coalition’s appeal ultimately won over Hykes’ fellow council member Bob Ward.

“I think it’s a worthwhile goal,” Ward said during Monday’s discussion. “Anything that we can do to affect the proliferation of weapons, I think we should join in.”

But the group’s plea to the council fizzled with Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler, who had campaigned for his current position on a promise to avoid political entanglements that have little to do with the day-to-day business of municipal government.

During Monday’s discussion, Butler voiced his concern that a foray into nuclear disarmament could ultimately leave the council in a veritable firestorm of partisan controversies.

“I’m concerned about the perpetuation of more requests,” he told his colleagues. “My fear is that when you start venturing out into something that’s ideological in nature, how far do go?”

Read our editorial views on this resolution and taking up city council time to discuss it:

Butler noted that he recently heard from a group that wanted the council to take a position on the nation’s southern border. He added that it might prove difficult to rebuff this latest request if the council was to stake out a stance on nuclear weapons.

Ward responded to the mayor’s misgivings by pointing out that the council can always address these hot-button issues on a case-by-case basis.

“We have to sort of accept each one as it comes along,” he recommended.

This sort of approach didn’t cut the ice with mayor pro tem Harold Owen, who had served as Burlington’s city manager prior to his elevation to the council.

“Nobody is in favor of nuclear weapons,” Owen assured the rest of the group. “But I don’t recall doing anything like this in the past.”

Meanwhile, the whole issue of nuclear disarmament seemed like poor choice of priorities to city attorney David Huffman.

“It’s almost borderline venturing into foreign policy,” Huffman admonished the council. “As a practical matter we do things in this state that the legislature says we can do.”

The standoff over the proposed resolution was eventually deescalated when councilman Ronnie Wall encouraged his colleagues to set the matter aside until March. Wall’s suggestion drew the immediate support of Butler and Owen, which was enough to overcome the objections of Hykes and Ward, and leave the fight over this issue to another day.

See other Burlington news this week:

City manager Hardin Watkins to retire next month, consult for six months afterwards:

City council approves new recycling rates that triple monthly charges to residents:

Council disappointed by prognosis for Western Electric redevelopment:

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