The Burlington city council seemed set on Monday night to give unanimous approval to Mayor Miro Weinberger's choice of Chapin Spencer as director of the Department of Public Works. In comments on Spencer's qualifications, councilors expressed admiration for his work as director of the bicycle/pedestrian advocacy group Local Motion and for his other forms of service to the city.
Then Councilor Rachel Siegel spoke.
The Ward 3 Progressive caught many in the audience by surprise in announcing she would vote against Spencer's appointment. Like her colleagues who had spoken earlier, Siegel praised Spencer's record and said she was confident he is a good choice to lead Public Works.
"I will vote against the appointment in order to vote against the mayor's process," Siegel explained.
She said she is "greatly disturbed" by Weinberger's move to appoint Spencer without conducting a nationwide search for potential leaders of the department. "The mayor has committed in words to diversity and equity but has not followed through with action," Siegel declared. She said a broad search could have yielded candidates who reflect the demographic changes occurring nationally and in Burlington.
In response, Weinberger defended his record on diversity issues. He noted that with his choice of Rubi Simon as director of the Fletcher Free Library, "the first woman of color ever is leading one of our departments." Weinberger further pointed out that Eileen Blackwood, whom he also nominated, is the first woman to serve as city attorney.
Dave Hartnett (D-Ward 4) said that two earlier national searches for leaders of city departments had not produced diversity candidates. "Just because we put it out to nationwide search doesn't mean we're going to get diversity," Hartnett said. He added that the Weinberger administration is hiring "local people" who are well qualified. "I'm glad we're looking here first," Hartnett added. "I'm glad we're not spending thousands of dollars bringing candidates in" who might not even accept job offers, he said.
Invited to address the council, Spencer said "a conversation of diversity and equity is not one I shy away from. These issues are my issues."
Fellow Ward 3 Progressive Vince Brennan joined Siegel in voting against Spencer for the reasons she had cited. The mayor's appointment was approved on a 12-2 vote.