A national search launched last year for a new chief administrative officer of Burlington has ended just a few miles from where it began.
Saying it is “in many ways the most important appointment I have to make,” Mayor Miro Weinberger announced on Thursday that he has chosen Bob Rusten, a top South Burlington official, to fill the post. Weinberger noted that he had personally interviewed about a dozen candidates for the CAO job.
Rusten, 62, would bring diversified administrative and political experience to the city’s number-two post if confirmed by the city council next week. He currently holds three positions in South Burlington: deputy city manager, chief financial officer and treasurer. He also served 10 years in the Vermont House as a Democrat representing Halifax, which Rusten described at a city hall press conference as a conservative Republican district.
“The person the city needs at this time is someone with deep municipal finance experience,” Weinberger said.
The mayor touted Rusten’s handling of the same thorny assignments he would be given in Burlington: fixing an underfunded pension system, cleaning up a fiscal mess and negotiating sustainable deals with municipal labor unions.
In a memorandum sent to the city council yesterday, Weinberger said Rusten “co-negotiated an $8.2 million refunding of an underfunded pension system.” The mayor also pointed to Rusten’s work on a team that “unearthed the severe nature of South Burlington’s financial troubles” and helped solve “cumulative fiscal problems exceeding $17 million.”
That’s a familiar figure to anyone who has followed the sad saga of Burlington Telecom. Having driven the city’s bond rating to the gates of Wall Street’s junk yard, BT still has no way of repaying a $17 million loan that a previous CAO, Jonathan Leopold, improperly leveraged from city coffers five years ago.
There’s also the matter of the $33 million worth of fiber optic lines and other network equipment that CitiCapital is threatening to repossess because BT has no way of covering the cost of that infrastructure.
Asked how he will address BT’s — and Burlington’s — unresolved financial crisis, Rusten was noncommittal: “It would be presumptuous of me to come in from the outside and say I’ve got the answer.”
But he may have a clue to what the answer could be.
Citing his efforts to develop a “collaborative approach” to problems in South Burlington, Rusten said his style is to seek “a win/win solution, or at least a fair lose/lose solution.”
Weinberger and BT’s lawyers have been holding talks with CitiCapital in hopes of hammering out a lose/lose deal that would likely involve partial payment of the $33 million that the municipal financing firm says it is owed.
If confirmed next Monday, Rusten would replace Paul Sisson, an accountant who has held the CAO job on an interim basis for the past year. Weinberger praised Sisson, who did not attend the press conference in the mayor’s office, saying, “Paul had exactly the skills needed in my first year in office.”
Rusten is slated to receive a starting salary of $121,506 a year. He would take over the CAO post on June 3, although Weinberger said he expects Sisson to continuing working on the city’s budget until mid-June.
Rusten does not intend to sell the home he recently purchased in Hinesburg, but he will establish residency in Burlington in order to comply with city requirements, Weinberger told the council.
Council President Joan Shannon said after the news conference that she does not foresee any obstacle to Rusten’s confirmation. She noted that he has been meeting with Progressives, independents and the council’s lone Republican, as well as with her fellow Democrats.
Photo of Mayor Miro Weinberger and Bob Rusten by Kevin J. Kelley.