WCAX Investigates: Burlington ‘temp jobs’ redacted, Part 2

The mayor answers questions about government transparency and the city’s director of police transformation.
Published: Jul. 7, 2021 at 6:39 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 7, 2021 at 7:13 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - We are getting your questions answered about government transparency in Burlington. Like how much power does Burlington’s mayor have when it comes to hiring new city employees? Is it reasonable to hire them without a contract? And how you can be sure your tax dollars are being used wisely?

After multiple requests for an interview with Mayor Miro Weinberger were denied or ignored, he agreed to talk about his temporary director of police transformation.

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

“I do believe it is one of the reasons we got through that period better than a lot of communities, a lot of communities saw violence. They saw clashes between officers and protesters. They saw a destruction of property. None of that happened here, but it didn’t in part because of the counsel that, that Kyle gave me,” said Weinberger, D-Burlington.

I asked why was there no contract that laid out the director’s specific responsibilities and deliverables.

“You know, for better or worse when we, that’s not the way we do it here in the city of Burlington. We don’t have contracts with employees, whether they’re permanent employees or temporary employees. I mean, we have a contract with our collective bargaining units, but we don’t, that’s just not the way we’re organized,” Weinberger said.

So, how does the city measure an employee’s success or hold them accountable if they don’t get the job done?

“The accountability comes through short-term... reappointments... for senior leaders. You only get one year at a time, the way I’ve done it, at least... Our department heads only get one-year reappointments... a couple that by charter have longer. And how from the beginning was clear would be a six-month assessment. I said, probably what you would be working on the date. He started. We had several updates to that. And... I think that’s the way the success, this isn’t about some kind of bean-counting, the some, contractual compliance, this is are we making progress on these big critical issues in the community,” Weinberger said.

Reporter Céline McArthur: Speaking of the accountability you just talked about, was there an exit interview performed? If so, how did it go? And is there any documentation of that?

Mayor Miro Weinberger: So, the exit... there’s no exit interview in this case that I conducted. Generally, employees that do leave the city, there is HR performs some kind of exit interview. I actually don’t know whether that happened or not, as you may recall the events around his departure, sadly, unfortunately, kind of contentious and multipurpose. I’m not sure that interview ever, ever happened exactly...”

Céline McArthur: Now the director was embedded, as you said, in the police department for six months to learn what’s going on. And then he’s essentially sent home. Isn’t that experience essential to police transformation moving forward?

Mayor Miro Weinberger: I’ve made it clear. He’s not going anywhere. He’s a permanent resident of Burlington. He... continued to be in a leadership position within YMCAs and he’s offered and has continued to do the weigh in... as a volunteer.

Céline McArthur: How did you come up with the $75,000 price tag on the position? Because the average city employee makes about $34,000 a year. Did you compare it to other similar positions around the region or the country?

Mayor Miro Weinberger: Couple of things, Celine, there’s really two things. First of all... I was asking Kyle to do a pretty extraordinary thing in his life, running one of our important institutions, the YMCA here. And secondly, we also asked ourselves, is this fair. And when you compare it to other senior positions within the city and you’d take into account, the fact you didn’t get any of the retirement benefits or the health care benefits, all they got was as a temporary employee with a salary game. And it is in line with what the city attorney and the police chief and the CAO and another, the other most senior positions in the city make.

Céline McArthur: Moving forward, do you think the mayor should have the authority to create positions, determine their pay length of service and hire who they want to fill them?

Mayor Miro Weinberger: Well, power of course is, you know, really severely limited. I had the ability to legal authority and the budget to do that in a way that normally would rarely be possible because we had a vacancy within chief, the chief’s position in it because we, because of the pandemic had some unexpended funds within the mayor’s office, discretionary budget. And that’s why I was able to act on my own that way... I made it clear at the time... that before making a position permanent, you know, obviously, but this is required, but also something, you know, would be necessary to be successful without the buy-in necessary. If this is going to become a long-term position that that will require full vetting by the police commission and the, and the City Council and... that’s the way the system works.

Céline McArthur: Are you, are you considering making it a permanent position?

Mayor Miro Weinberger: Yeah. And that’s what I was trying to say, Celine. I do think something like that would be important would be, would make, would help me as mayor, I think would help any mayor.

Weinberger maintains that Dodson was instrumental in cultural change through community conversations, weighing in on contracts and offering advice.

He didn’t offer specifics, and in the records I requested, nearly every time it appeared that he and Dodson were having substantial conversations via email, they were blacked out, a move the ACLU’s lawyer is challenging.

“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,” said Lia Ernst, the ACLU of Vermont legal director.

Mayor Miro Weinberger: So, Celine, you know, of course, I haven’t seen that card from your lawyer until just now. If that’s accurate, that’s a problem. Worked very hard to meet the letter in the spirit of public records law. And, if she feels that that, which contains the requirements that the lawyer just spoke about, and if, if you haven’t met here... I would walk them. You’ve been pointing out exactly where that’s the case and... we have an appeal process for that. And... we need to get it right. We spend hundreds or hundreds, not thousands of requests that we get over the course of the year. Our city attorney’s office works very hard to get you right by the public records law. It’s a really important law. And I believe they worked hard to try to get it right here. If we didn’t... we should correct them.

We’re filing the appeal, and will bring you new details as we get them.

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Watch part 1 of Céline McArthur’s investigative report:

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