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After city council approves hiring search firm, Burlington mayor says he will appoint new police chief from current applicant pool

photo of Burlington Police logo on a podium
Photo - Pat Bradley/WAMC
photo of Burlington Police logo on a podium

At their most recent meeting, Burlington, Vermont City Councilors decided to hire an executive search firm to help the city hire a new police chief. The move is not sitting well with the mayor, who says he will move forward with an appointment from the current pool of candidates.

The city council, controlled by Progressives, passed a resolution that approves spending $75,000 to hire a search firm. It did not meet other conditions Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger says are critical to a successful search. In November, the mayor asked councilors to pass a resolution that included hiring a search firm, increasing the chief’s salary and giving the new chief disciplinary power.

Resolution co-sponsor East District Progressive Jack Hanson said the city must continue its move toward a public safety system that focuses on resources that reduce harm and protect racial justice and moves away from punishment and incarceration.

“To get strong candidates that fit that description we need to bring in a search firm that is going to do the type of targeted outreach and recruitment needed to identify those candidates," Hanson said. "And what the resolution also lays out is that if a search firm is facing obstacles they can come back to the council and let us know what we can do to insure that these transformative leaders are applying.”

Mayor Weinberger, a Democrat, has issued a series of memos outlining priorities regarding the search for a new chief. He said without the provisions detailed in his latest correspondence, the council’s approval of the resolution would be non-responsive to the city’s needs.

"This resolution sets up a process where at best we are wasting months more," the mayor said. "This is from my perspective disrespectful to the men and women of the Burlington Police Department. But most importantly it is very problematic and disrespectful to the people of Burlington who have serious concerns about public safety and are basically just being played games with here.”

Ward 3 Progressive Joe Magee said it is unfortunate that councilors supporting the resolution were being portrayed as unwilling to compromise.

“We don’t have all the tools that we currently need to attract a police chief in the competitive environment that exists and this resolution lays us out on a path to contract this search firm, to provide us the guidelines and the expertise and the analysis that we need to make certain changes that might be necessary for us to attract a candidate," said Magee.

Mayor Weinberger warned councilors that if the resolution passed he would move forward with an appointment from the current pool of applicants early in the new year. It passed on a 6 to 5 vote.

The next day, Mayor Weinberger followed through and issued a statement noting that the city charter allows him to make department head appointments and “I believe it is my duty to do so urgently.”

The Burlington Steering Committee of the Vermont Progressive Party and Progressive City Councilors subsequently issued a statement noting that the mayor cannot “unilaterally nominate a police chief without City Council support.” The Progressives called the original search process “flawed” and “highly politicized,” leading to a pool of only four applicants that met minimum qualifications.

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