Burlington City Councilor Rachel Siegel, a Progressive Party member and social-change activist, has been named executive director of the Peace and Justice Center.
Although the nonprofit center has been financially troubled in recent years, Siegel said it has regained enough financial security to be able to hire its first paid director in three years.
Siegel's position will be half-time initially, expanding to 40 hours a week when funding becomes available, she said. That may take "several months," Siegel added. She starts work on Tuesday, October 1.
Siegel declined to reveal how much she will earn in the post — except to say the center "practices what it preaches," and she'll be paid more than the "livable wage" of $13.94 an hour that Burlington sets for its own employees as per city ordinance. The PJC commissioned the study that determined that amount 13 years ago.The executive director job also comes with benefits, Siegel said.
The Burlington mother of two will be leaving her part-time jobs as a children's dance and gym instructor at the Burlington YMCA and as a social-skills coach for students at the University of Vermont's College of Medicine. Siegel said she intends to "devote 100 percent effort" to her council post and the PJC job.
There doesn't appear to be any potential conflict of interest between working at the center and serving as a city councilor, Siegel added. "If anything does arise, of course I will recuse myself" from voting on a particular issue, she said, "but I can't imagine that would happen." The center does not receive funding from the city, Siegel noted.
In choosing the Ward 3 Progressive as its leader, the center gains an outspoken and generally respected advocate for a wide range of leftist causes. Siegel is a strong champion of feminist and anti-racist initiatives. She said she also sees herself as a longstanding supporter of the peace movement, but noted she will need to "catch up" on international issues, including the fair-trade campaign that has been a prominent part of the center's work.
Asked if she plans to take the 34-year-old center in new directions, Siegel said she intends to focus on fundraising and "capacity-building" while looking to the organization's board for guidance. She has her own suggestions for the board, she said, but expects her first few months on the job will involve "a good deal of learning."