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Burlington City Council blocks confirmation of police chief on tie vote

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

Burlington, Vermont City Councilors have deadlocked over Mayor Miro Weinberger's appointment for police chief, stalling the nomination.

Following more than two hours of public comment Monday, city councilors debated the appointment of Acting Chief Jon Murad as Police Chief. Holding two degrees from Harvard and law enforcement experience at the NYPD, Murad returned to his hometown of Burlington in 2008.

During public comment 31 people spoke in support of promoting Murad to Chief of Police. Former city councilor Paul Decelles said his first impression of Murad was watching him calmly interact with angry protesters outside the police station in the summer of 2020.

“Protesters from the roof and hood of a car poured mock blood at his feet. He stayed calm and well mannered. By all accounts this is how he has led the department since being made acting chief," said Decelles. "To you detractors please get out of the way. Please put aside your narratives and recognize the opportunity in front of you.”

Burlington Business Association Program Director Colin Hilliard read a statement on behalf of its 260 member businesses pleading for stability in policing.

“As permanent chief, Murad will be able to move forward with long term planning and strategies in a way that interim chiefs simply cannot. A no vote tonight sends a clear message that the council is unwilling or unable to take action to support public safety in Burlington.”

Of the 24 who spoke against confirmation, some targeted the selection process and others criticized the Democratic mayor rather than Murad. Resident Kelly Taylor was concerned that as Chief, Murad would fail to implement police reforms.

“This appointment would make a complete joke of the city’s declaration of racism as a public health crisis. Acting Chief Murad is unable to even acknowledge the existence of implicit or unconscious racial bias. If we as Burlingtonians want to move forward to imagine a new way to approach public safety then look for someone who can at least acknowledge and then work towards the dismantling of racism in the Burlington Police Department.”

During council debate East District Progressive Jack Hanson said the city needs a police chief who can fulfill specific goals of transforming public safety by eliminating racial disparities, advocate for independent oversight, and promote de-escalation. Hanson said Murad doesn’t meet the mark.

“We need to hire a search firm. We need to do way better with this process and we need to look specifically for that type of leadership and run a robust process to seek out and attract and recruit that leader.”

Ward 5 Democrat Chip Mason lambasted the Progressives who control the council for blocking Murad's appointment.

“Quite frankly I’m disappointed and frustrated with my colleagues refusing to even allow or take a meeting with a candidate to discuss their concerns. I’m frustrated by those who believe in this mythical perfect candidate that’s out there if we just engage in a more robust process." Mason continued, "We engaged in that robust process and it resulted in a small pool. This mayor and six members of this council were willing to engage in a process of reopening that but six of my colleagues on this council voted no. Now to sit back and complain about the process seems disingenuous.”

Before councilors debated, Mayor Weinberger acknowledged confirmation was unlikely.

“The council can either vote to confirm a highly qualified chief or vote no and deliver yet another needless blow to public safety here in Burlington.”

The vote was 6 to 6 along party lines. The mayor cannot cast a tie-breaking vote on his appointments so Murad’s confirmation failed.

Following the meeting Mayor Weinberger issued a statement that the city council had “dealt another needless blow to public safety in our City.” He added that Murad will continue serving as Acting Chief indefinitely.

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