WCAX Investigates: Burlington ‘temp jobs’ redacted

Did taxpayers benefit from director of police transformation?
Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 6:29 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 7, 2021 at 6:51 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - “Conversation, trust and good faith is what we need. Without that, nothing will happen,” Kyle Dodson, Burlington’s former director of police transformation, said in January 2021.

I dug into public documents to try to answer questions about how and why the director of police transformation position was created and what taxpayers got for their money.

In September 2020, Mayor Miro Weinberger created the position and hired Greater Burlington YMCA CEO Dodson to fill it, just weeks after racial justice demonstrators marched to the mayor’s home and protested.

The director of transformation was paid $75,000 for a six-month commitment.

But what were Dodson’s responsibilities and how did the mayor determine he was qualified for this role?

It’s hard to tell since I discovered there was no contract laying out the scope of work, including project goals, deadlines and deliverables.

I asked the mayor’s office why-- especially for this high-paying, high-stakes position.

A staff member responded via email, saying a “temporary employee” doesn’t get a contract or an offer letter. She then directed me to an online press release with some general roles and responsibilities.

I followed up asking how the city and Mayor Weinberger measure the success of “a temporary employee” or hold them accountable for failure to deliver if there are no detailed deliverables spelled out in an official document? I did not get an answer.

Dodson wrapped up the role with an eight-page report publicly criticized for lacking specific recommendations for reform and for being plagiarized.

I talked to Dodson about it on March 26.

“I got caught,” he said. “In six months, is such a short period of time to establish anything, I think, of deep significance.”

At the time, Weinberger sent out a statement saying the report wasn’t Dodson’s only task. And he added: “I did publicly charge him with addressing a narrow range of questions in a report, which he attempted to do this document... I would have like to see a report that was more detailed and actionable...”

So why didn’t that happen?

The mayor turned down or didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview to explain.

So under Vermont’s public records law, I requested all communication between Weinberger and Dodson, including emails, texts and messages on social media.

Page one listed exemptions used to black out pages or not include them at all.

  • Personal documents relating to an individual, including information in any files maintained to hire, evaluate, promote or discipline.
  • Records of interdepartmental and intradepartmental communications that are preliminary to any determination of policy or action.
  • And records containing attorney-client privileged communications.

That leaves an unknown number of black holes in the records request.

And the last email I found between Weinberger and Dodson was in January of this year, less than halfway through Dodson’s term. I gave the documents to two attorneys for their legal opinion.

Reporter Céline McArthur: You’ve seen the request and the response. What are your thoughts?

Mark Oettinger/Attorney: Well, I’ve seen 174 pages worth of responses, a lot of which is redacted, in other words, it’s been blacked out. So it’s really hard for me to tell what the underlying issues are.

“They just didn’t provide you enough information, whether their redactions or exemptions are appropriate as they are required to do under the law, but they have not done here,” ACLU Attorney Lia Ernst said. “You’re required to identify that document and provide a brief statement of the reasons the exemption applies and the factual basis for that. And none of that happened here. You have no idea what, what documents you did not receive.”

I was not convinced I got everything I was entitled to see, so I asked again and was right. The city apologized for failing to provide another 400 pages of emails and texts.

“My main piece of advice is keep on digging, just like you’re doing here,” Ernst said. “You didn’t get a response that you thought was an adequate one and didn’t let it be. Sometimes, unfortunately, that’s what it takes.”

It also takes money. I paid about $85 for the first round of documents. And the city is charging up to $228 for what they didn’t send, with no guarantee it won’t be entirely blacked out with redactions. They also don’t release the documents until they’re paid.

However, Ernst says there’s a way to get around the fee.

Lia Ernst: Anybody can inspect and records for free, meaning you go to the agency and you look at them and you leave without taking the copy with you that under a recent Supreme Court decision that the ACLU litigated the Supreme Court held, you cannot charge for someone to just look at reports.

Céline McArthur: So I can go to city hall and I can look at the 800 pages.

Lia Ernst: Absolutely.

I will read through those reports and ask city leaders why they didn’t include explanations about what they redacted or withheld.

And just hours before this story was published, Mayor Miro Weinberger became available for an interview. See my one-on-one interview with him Wednesday on the Channel 3 News at 6 p.m.

Share your thoughts on this story by emailing us or messaging us on Facebook.

Watch part 2 of Céline McArthur’s investigative report:

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