Drawing from within its ranks, the Vermont State Employees' Association has hired Steve Howard as its new executive director. Howard, who has been the union's legislative director for the last year and a half, is replacing Mark Mitchell, who announced in May that he was leaving his post to move closer to his elderly mother in Orlando, Fla.
Howard has deep roots in the Vermont political realm. He spent more than a decade in the Statehouse as a representative from Rutland, chaired the Vermont Democratic Party for several years, and, in 2010, challenged Phil Scott in an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor.
Mitchell held multiple labor jobs in California, Florida and South America before arriving at the VSEA in December 2011. His leadership rankled some within the 5,500-member union, and several state officials said their relationship with him was less amicable than with past directors. But Howard praised Mitchell for growing the union’s membership base. “I think we have an unprecedented amount of new energy and activity and people stepping up to take leadership roles,” he said.
In a written statement, Howard also explained that the board of trustees gave him unambiguous instructions: Stay the course laid out by your predecessor. "Board members made it clear during the interview process that they really like the direction VSEA is going in and they did not want it to change. I assured them that I don’t either.”
According to Howard, VSEA members are now on the same page about the future direction of the union. “I really think they are excited about the idea that their union is really about them and not about insiders in Montpelier making deals on their behalf.”