Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger today nominated a leading bike advocate and Progressive former city councilor to head the city's Department of Public Works.
The choice of Chapin Spencer, director of the bicyclist and pedestrian advocacy group Local Motion, likely ranks as the boldest personnel move of the Democratic mayor's 15-month tenure.
Spencer (pictured with daughter Zia) cofounded and has helmed a 14-year-old "inclusive-transportation" organization recognized as one of the most effective of its kind in the country. In his four years on the city council as a Ward 1 Prog (1998-2002) and in his work at Local Motion, Spencer has demonstrated the political instincts of a pragmatist as well as those of a partisan.
Weinberger emphasized those two aspects of Spencer's career during a press conference Thursday afternoon at a Department of Public Works garage on Pine Street.
"In nearly two decades of service to this community, Chapin has shown himself to be both a visionary who can push the community forward and a pragmatist who can deliver on-the-ground progress," Weinberger said. The department that Spencer has been chosen to lead is "responsible for our most basic municipal needs as well as our highest aspirations," the mayor added.
Asked about the political significance of choosing a Progressive, Weinberger said the selection "gives substance to the idea that we want to be an administration that appeals to a broad political spectrum."
Spencer is likely to glide through the city council's confirmation process at its June 24 meeting. Council President Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5), observed at the press event that Spencer "has built bridges, literally and figuratively." She said she looked forward to unanimous approval of his appointment to a post that will carry a salary of $88,845.
In their comments today, Spencer and Weinberger both sought to counter any assumption that the nominee will focus on bike paths and sidewalks to the neglect of other parts of the city's infrastructure. They both cited the importance of managing and improving the piping and wiring that enable Burlington to function on a nitty-gritty level. Initiatives related to downtown parking will be a key item on DPW's agenda, Spencer said, echoing remarks by Burlington Business Association executive director Kelly Devine, who was on hand to endorse the nomination.
"I'm a bike/ped guy but we need much more than that from our public works director," Spencer declared.
Cycling advocate Phil Hammerslough was also present for the announcement, which was set against a backdrop of monster trucks with DPW insignia. "I expect there to be gradual changes" in the department's priorities under Spencer's direction, Hammerslough said.
Weinberger noted that unlike current DPW chief Steve Goodkind, who has announced his retirement, Spencer does not have a degree in engineering. Goodkind also serves as city engineer, but the mayor noted that Burlington's charter allows for that job to be performed by someone who does not simultaneously serve as DPW director. Weinberger said he will appoint a new city engineer prior to Spencer's scheduled takeover of DPW in late August.
Weinberger and Spencer hailed Goodkind's work at DPW for the past 32 years. Wearing an orange baseball cap with tinted sunglasses perched on its brim, Goodkind smiled in appreciation and said he looks forward to a continuation of the department's successes. Spencer, in turn, noted that Goodkind has put in place a foundation of "complete streets," as well as bike and pedestrian investments on which he plans to build.
Local Motion's board is meanwhile embarking on a national search for a new leader, Spencer said.
On hand for the announcement was Spencer's 2-year-old daughter, Zia. He noted that her first question upon arriving at the scene of the appointment announcement was "When do I get to go on these cool trucks?"