An era will end when Burlington Public Works director Steve Goodkind hangs up his hard hat next month. Mayor Miro Weinberger announced on Tuesday that Goodkind will retire on June 30 — 32 years after being hired by Bernie Sanders as the socialist mayor's first appointee.
Soon to turn 62, Goodkind was a member of the original inner circle of Sanderistas that included John Franco, David Clavelle, George Thabault and Doreen Kraft. Only Kraft, who runs Burlington City Arts, is still working as a city official.
"A fortuitous series of events, mostly financial" led to Goodkind's decision to step down now, he said in an interview in the driveway of his home in Burlington's New North End. "It's working out now probably as good as it's ever going to work out."
With the weather warming, Goodkind has the added incentive of being able to spend unlimited hours riding his custom-built motorcycle around Vermont and likely to Newfoundland, too, on a road trip he's planning with his wife. He says he's heading for "the Wild East" this summer after a 25-year series of cycle trips out West that have included stops at the annual rally that draws hundreds of thousands of bikers to Sturgis, South Dakota.
Goodkind has been a biker since getting his driver's license at age 17. "I wanted to be a motorcycle mechanic long before I ever heard the term 'public works,'" he reminisces. It's an ambition put into practice by his son, Ethan Goodkind, who runs Moonlight Cycles in Winooski.
Retirement will also give Goodkind more time to devote to his banjo picking.
Although he got a degree in engineering from the University of Vermont and has been working on complex technical projects for three decades, Goodkind confesses that he only recently learned the banjo he picked up in the 1970s was missing a crucial part.
"I'd tried and tried to get good at it, but never did, so I just gave up and hung it on a wall for years," he recounts. One day, the banjo "sort of exploded," so Goodkind took it to a repair shop downtown. A repairman pointed out that it didn't have a brace: the piece in the back of the head that enables the banjo to remain in tune. "Soon as it was fixed, I could play it really well," the strummer says, demonstrating a few licks as his long white ponytail bounces along.
Goodkind is a devoted skier as well. That's what led him to UVM from his family home in Newark, N.J.
Not long after graduating, he became friends with Sanders while fixing the future mayor's Volkswagen, which had broken down in Richmond. Goodkind's living room was the scene of the announcement that heralded a revolution in the Queen City; it was there that Sanders formally declared in 1981 that he was running for mayor.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Goodkind rates Sanders the best of the five mayors for whom he has worked. "Bernie brought so much energy to the city," he says. "And it was all local people who he appointed who made it happen."
Goodkind was hired as director of public health and safety, which was one of several municipal units that were combined in 1985 to create the Department of Public Works. It wasn't until 1998 that Goodkind was put in charge of the department.
His proudest accomplishment? Goodkind doesn't hesitate in citing installation of the $52 million stormwater system initiated by the Sanders administration.
Even moderately heavy rains used to result in the closing of Burlington's beaches prior to that infrastructure upgrade. Now, contaminants that would otherwise have been flushed directly into the lake are captured for processing at the municipal sewage-treatment plant.
Snowplowing, particularly of sidewalks, is another upgrade of which Goodkind is proud. "A heavy snow would leave them impassable years ago, but now we've taken the clearing work to another level," he says.
Sidewalk repairs haven't been handled as successfully, Goodkind admits. And there's a lot to be done to make Burlington a more bikeable city, he also acknowledges. "We have established some routes, like the complete street on Colchester Avenue, but the next generation will be able to take it much, much further," he says.
Goodkind, who will continue to do some occasional work for the city, grows enthusiastic in pointing to a new technology that enables Public Works to line the inside of aging sewer pipes rather than digging them up and replacing them. "It's way more efficient," he says.
One that Goodkind mentions has nothing to do with public works. It involves Burlington Telecom.
Goodkind recalls that in department head meetings in the late 1990s, he was the only official suggesting "there's something not right about BT." Its finances weren't being handled well, he remembers telling colleagues and then-mayor Peter Clavelle. "They're spending money like drunken sailors," Goodkind says of BT's managers at that time.
"I was the only one saying that sort of thing," he notes. "No one listened."
And the rest is history.
Peter Clavelle does get a passing grade on Goodkind's report card. Bob Kiss served "more as a caretaker," who, Goodkind adds, "might actually be seen as a pretty good mayor if not for BT."
Miro Weinberger is "on a learning curve," but is doing "pretty well," in Goodkind's estimation. "He's surrounded himself with some really good people."
Weinberger in turn gave Goodkind a positive send-off in a press release on Tuesday announcing the pending retirement.
“In the short time we have worked together, it’s been easy to observe the great passion Steve has for the city of Burlington and the breadth of skills Steve has brought to the job," the mayor said.