Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger will ask city councilors on Monday to funnel more money into the city’s ongoing search for a permanent police chief in order to attract more viable candidates.
If councilors don’t agree, Weinberger wrote in a memo, he’ll appoint one of the two candidates who met the job’s “minimum requirements” after a monthslong search. Acting Chief Jon Murad, who has served in that role since summer 2020, is one candidate; the mayor hasn’t identified the other. The search resulted in 21 applicants, none of them women.
“Burlingtonians want us to choose a permanent Police Chief from a large and competitive pool of leaders eager to serve our City,” Weinberger wrote in the memo to councilors. “I am prepared to continue working towards this goal if the Council promptly takes the actions I have detailed.”
The city hasn’t had a permanent police chief since December 2019, when former chief Brandon del Pozo resigned amid a social media scandal. Weinberger launched a national search but paused it during the pandemic.
He restarted the process in May but suspended it again this month after members of the city’s hiring committee recommended advertising the position with a higher salary.
In his memo, the mayor said the chief should be paid as much as $160,000 a year — about $30,000 more than the high end of the advertised salary range. Weinberger wrote that a police nonprofit recommended that pay range, as did “multiple prospects who chose not to respond to our job posting.”
The mayor is also asking councilors to preserve the chief’s authority on officer discipline — a power enshrined in the city charter that council Progressives attempted to remove with a ballot item late last year.
The Progs had envisioned an “independent community control board,” whose members would have had the authority to discipline officers for misconduct, including the chief. Weinberger vetoed the measure on New Year’s Eve 2020, saying that while the chief shouldn’t have “near-absolute power,” the council proposal "appears designed to be hostile to police officers." Weinberger has since defended his decision, saying that such a system would discourage potential candidates from applying to be the next chief.
“Disciplinary authority is a critical leadership tool for all executive managers, and prospective Chief candidates need to know they will be able to exercise this authority,” he wrote. “The Council’s firm support is needed to assure prospective candidates that the City will preserve a leadership role for the Police Chief in determining and dispatching discipline when necessary.”
Weinberger is also asking councilors to allocate $75,000 to hire a professional search firm to help find chief candidates, "given the current competitive recruitment environment."
Lastly, he wants the council to amend the police department budget so it can hire two new civilian positions. A recruiter would help the new chief rebuild the department, which has diminished in size since the June 2020 council vote to reduce the force through attrition, Weinberger said. And a public information officer would “bring our community closer to consensus on issues of public safety and policing,” he wrote.
The latter position was recommended by CNA, a Virginia nonprofit whose wide-ranging assessment of police operations was released in October. Weinberger didn’t provide the expected salary of either position.
City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) questioned how some of Weinberger's suggestions, such as the two civilian hires, relate to the search process. He said the council would need to carefully consider these positions, especially if they would come at the expense of funding alternative public safety models such as CAHOOTS, a mental health response program developed in Oregon.
"We're gonna need additional resources to get that up and running," Tracy said, noting that such programs could reduce race-based disparities in policing. "There's all kinds of different things that we could invest in that would build different alternatives to just relying on the department."
Tracy also said that he's wary of the police chief retaining the final say on officer discipline.
"We've seen this tendency over time to issue disciplinary decisions that are minimal in light of the misconduct that took place," he said. "I'd be really concerned that we'd continue to see that play out."
Weinberger will make his pitch at Monday night's meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at city hall or on Zoom. Tracy said he doesn't expect councilors to vote on the proposal.