South Burlington Snares Winooski’s City Manager | Off Message

South Burlington Snares Winooski’s City Manager


  • File: MATTHEW THORSEN ©️ Seven Days
  • Jessie Baker

South Burlington has hired away the city manager from "Burlington's Brooklyn."

Jessie Baker, who held the top city post in Winooski for four years, will begin her new role on June 1. She will replace current South Burlington city manager Kevin Dorn, who has held the job since 2013. He'll train Baker for a month before retiring.

The South Burlington City Council was impressed with Baker’s “caliber, competence and persona,” Helen Riehle, the council chair, said in a statement announcing the hire this week.

“We are ecstatic that she will become both the first female and the next City Manager,” Riehle said.

Baker took the job in the Onion City in 2017. In the last decade or so, the scrappy little mill city has been reborn as a hipster hangout packed with modern apartments, a redeveloped riverfront, trendy retail shops, and bars and restaurants.

At 1.4 square miles, it's the smallest but most diverse city in Vermont, welcoming immigrants from around the world. South Burlington is the state’s third-largest city by population, after Burlington and Essex.
In an interview Thursday, Baker made clear she's not leaving Winooski but rather going to "another professional opportunity" in South Burlington. She noted that she'll continue to be an Onion City resident.

"I applied for the position in South Burlington because from a city manager perspective, South Burlington has it all," Baker said. "It has a developing downtown. It has close-knit neighborhoods. It has conserved lands and public parks. It has a lot of the challenges I like to work on around affordability and diversity of services to residents. So it just presented a larger professional opportunity for me."

The Waterbury Center native attended Harwood Union High School and later Columbia University. She earned a master’s degree from Tufts University, and worked for five years in city government in Somerville, Mass., before returning to Vermont. She became assistant city manager in Montpelier in 2013, a position she held until arriving in Winooski in 2017.

Asked about being the first female city manager in South Burlington, Baker cited statistics that show just 18 percent of city managers nationwide are women.

"We often hear, 'You can't be what you can't see,'" Baker said. "Hopefully, as more women in Vermont become town and city managers, more young women or women who work in local government will see that as a path for themselves."

Sasha Goldstein contributed reporting.

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