About 12 hours after Burlington city councilors agreed to hire a search firm to help find a new police chief, Mayor Miro Weinberger announced he would ignore the council's vote and pursue his own plan to select the next top cop.
In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Weinberger said council Progressives had made consensus on the search process "impossible" by refusing to take steps the mayor thinks would attract a broader pool of applicants. A monthslong search has yielded just two viable hires, the mayor has said: acting Chief Jon Murad and another unnamed candidate.
Weinberger, a Democrat, said Tuesday that he'll move forward with the two applicants, and bring a finalist to the council for a vote early next year.
"It remains within the Mayor’s authority under City Charter to select and make department head appointments, and I believe it is my duty to do so urgently," Weinberger said in the statement. "The community and our police department need a permanent chief now."
The city has been without a permanent chief for two years. The last top cop, Brandon del Pozo, resigned in December 2019 amid a social media scandal. The city cycled through two interim chiefs before Murad took on the acting role in June 2020.
Weinberger paused the city's national search when the pandemic began in March 2020, then restarted it in May of this year. He suspended the process again in November after the city's search committee recommended raising the advertised salary range.
In a memo that month, Weinberger demanded that councilors hire a search firm; offer a higher salary range; hire a police recruiter and public information officer; and allow the new chief to maintain authority over officer discipline. Councilors only agreed to the first point, voting by a narrow 6-5 margin late Monday night to spend $75,000 on a headhunter.
At the meeting, and again in his memo Tuesday, Weinberger said that the council's actions were "non-responsive" to his ultimatum.
"This action does not give the Administration what it needs to successfully re-start the search process," the mayor said. "Instead, it is nearly certain to squander months of valuable time and waste tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer resources and could well result in the loss of the two qualified candidates that have applied and are eager to serve Burlington."
Weinberger's statement made no mention of how he plans to address the measure the council passed on Monday night. In a follow-up email, his chief of staff, Jordan Redell, said the mayor "has not ruled out issuing a veto for clarity's sake" and has until January 10 to do so.
Redell said the council's resolution authorized spending money to hire a search firm but didn't require Weinberger take that step.
"The Council does not have the unilateral authority to direct the Mayor on either how to complete a search process for an appointee or to require the specific expenditure of money for such a process," she wrote.
City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) was unaware of the mayor's statement when Seven Days contacted him Tuesday afternoon. Weinberger's office issued the press release late Tuesday afternoon, just before the mayor's weeklong holiday vacation was set to begin.
Tracy said he was disappointed in the mayor and council Democrats, and criticized them for not bringing forward a resolution of their own that included all of Weinberger's demands. At Monday's meeting, some members of both parties appeared willing to raise the salary range, but no one proposed a vote on it.
For his part, Tracy said he wasn't supportive of raising the salary range, so he didn't offer the change; council presidents also rarely make motions during proceedings.
Other councilors have expressed support for appointing Murad, but Tracy doesn't think the acting chief is right for the job. Tracy said Murad's criticism of some police reform efforts and his public silence on a proposal to pilot an overdose-prevention site in Burlington are examples of how Murad isn't the "transformative" chief the city needs.
"It feels as though Jon has done everything in his power to stand in the way of progress," Tracy said.