Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is suspending the city's search for its next police chief until city councilors agree to certain conditions, including an increase in pay for the position.
In a press release Friday afternoon, Weinberger said members of the city's search committee had asked to advertise the position with a higher salary but that council Progressives didn't support the idea. The current ad offers a salary range of about $119,000 to just under $133,000, depending on experience.
Weinberger also blamed councilors for undermining "the effectiveness of our once world-class" police department by voting last year to reduce the officer headcount — a move they partially reversedlast month — and by supporting a police oversight model that would have removed the chief's disciplinary authority.
"Numerous times, I warned the Council that it was weakening the Department and risked creating an environment in which we would struggle to attract a permanent Chief," Weinberger wrote in a letter to councilors, which was attached to the press release. "This has now come to pass."
The city has been without a permanent police chief since December 2019, when former chief Brandon del Pozo resigned after he created an anonymous Twitter account to harass a critic. Weinberger subsequently launched a national search but paused it at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. He restarted the process in May.
According to Weinberger's letter, the search resulted in 21 applicants, none of them women; only two met the minimum requirements. Acting Chief Jon Murad was one; the mayor didn't identify the other. The search committee met Thursday and told Weinberger the search should be suspended, the mayor wrote.
Two city councilors, Jane Stromberg (P-Ward 8) and Karen Paul (D-Ward 6), serve on the 13-member search committee, as do two members of the Burlington Police Commission.
"Burlingtonians want us to choose a permanent chief from a large and competitive pool of leaders eager to serve our City," Weinberger wrote, "and it is clear we cannot deliver without new support from Councilors."
City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) took umbrage with Weinberger's letter, and with the mayor's decision to notify councilors just after 4:30 p.m. Friday, a half-hour before the press release went out.
Tracy flipped the blame back on Weinberger, saying the search is only happening because the last chief resigned in disgrace over a scandal that Weinberger covered up. He charged that Weinberger has eroded trust in the department by not doing enough to address systemic racism in policing.
"To say that this is dependent on decisions made by Progressives ... is incredibly unfair and inaccurate," Tracy said.
Weinberger is asking the council to hire an "executive search firm" to recruit more candidates and to increase the salary offer to be in line with those from comparable departments. He included a memo from the director of the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum, who recommended a range of $130,000 to $160,000 to "be competitive" in the search process.
The mayor is also requesting the council provide the "resources and support a new Police Chief will need to succeed," but didn't elaborate. He wrote that he'd share those details prior to the council's November 15 meeting.
Tracy said the salary request, for one of the highest-paid positions in the city, deserves additional scrutiny.
"I want to understand the full picture of what he's suggesting," he said. "I think that we should have a full reassessment about all of this, and he should make a public case for what he's seeking out."
Murad will continue to serve as acting chief, Weinberger said.