Burlington Councilors Poised to Block Murad's Appointment as Police Chief | Off Message

Burlington Councilors Poised to Block Murad's Appointment as Police Chief


Acting Police Chief Jon Murad - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Acting Police Chief Jon Murad
Updated at 8:52 p.m.

Burlington city councilors are poised to block Mayor Miro Weinberger’s nomination of acting Chief Jon Murad as the Queen City’s next top cop.

Just hours after Weinberger announced Murad’s appointment on Thursday afternoon, the council's six-member Progressive caucus issued a statement saying they'll vote against Murad at Monday’s meeting.

“We want to make it very clear that Mayor Weinberger does not have the votes in the City Council to confirm Acting Chief Murad as Burlington’s permanent Chief of Police," the Progs' statement says, calling the appointment divisive and controversial.

"Burlington needs a permanent Chief of Police who demonstrates a commitment to transforming public safety in Burlington," the statement continues. "Right now, Jon Murad is not that candidate."

In response, Weinberger’s chief of staff, Jordan Redell, said that the Progs have already done damage to the department — specifically with their vote in summer 2020 to reduce the force by 30 percent through attrition without another public safety plan in place.

Opposing Murad’s nomination shows the party is “ready to undermine the Police Department once again,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “For the good of the City and for the sake of progress on our many public safety challenges, let’s hope they come to their senses before Monday.”

But Weinberger, a Democrat, may have to convince more than just the Progs to change course. While the Progs’ votes alone could sink Murad’s nomination with a 6-6 tie, two other councilors have signaled they, too, won't vote for Murad. Councilors Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) and Sarah Carpenter (D-Ward 4) both told Seven Days that they have concerns that the search process wasn’t adequate.
Dieng said he was disappointed that Weinberger ignored the council’s desire to open a wider search late last year after the city’s process netted just two viable candidates — Murad and another applicant, who has not been named.

After some back-and-forth with Progressive councilors about how to broaden the candidate pool, Weinberger issued an ultimatum. He said he would choose one of the two finalists unless councilors agreed to offer higher pay; engage a professional search firm; and hire a spokesperson and recruiter for the department.

He also demanded that councilors agree to maintain the new chief’s authority over officer discipline — a direct contradiction of a previous Progressive proposal to create an independent oversight body.

When councilors only agreed to hire a search firm, Weinberger announced he would forge ahead with the finalists instead.

“This is showing the lack of collaboration,” Dieng said Thursday, “and we have to do this right.”

Councilor Carpenter said she’s not comfortable voting for Murad right now, when he hasn’t been endorsed by the city’s police chief search committee. She lamented that the group didn’t have a larger role in Weinberger’s decision. The mayor said he'd hoped to include search committee members in finalist interviews but that the other unnamed candidate withdrew before that meeting could be set up.

"It seemed not a fair use of everyone's time when we were down to one candidate," Weinberger said.

The city has been without a permanent police chief since December 2019, when former chief Brandon del Pozo resigned amid a social media scandal. A Vermonter and former NYPD cop, Murad served as del Pozo's deputy chief for nearly two years before being named acting chief in June 2020.

Murad has been at the center of contentious debates ever since, starting with the police roster vote, which he vocally opposed. Months later, protesters occupied Battery Park, right outside the police station, for a month to demand that three officers be fired for allegedly violent behavior.
Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, and acting Chief Jon Murad - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, and acting Chief Jon Murad
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Weinberger said Murad led through one of the most challenging times in the department’s 150-year history. The next chief needs to stabilize a “decimated” police force, the mayor said, and work to eliminate race-based disparities in policing.

“I know that Chief Murad is up to this enormous challenge because he has already demonstrated that he can do it,” Weinberger said.

Murad has already earned the trust of the Burlington Police Officers’ Association, whose members issued a statement calling for the council to support Murad’s bid. Several uniformed and off-duty officers attended the press conference at city hall.

“Acting Chief Murad has gallantly led this organization through crises which few agencies experience,” the statement says. “No other chief has achieved what Chief Jon Murad has been able to accomplish.”

Weinberger noted that the union previously opposed Murad’s hiring as deputy chief in 2018, and again when Murad briefly held the acting chief role in late 2019. He urged Burlingtonians who have similar doubts to “give Chief Murad a fresh start and a chance to earn their trust.”

Murad, who framed his tenure as a “20-month job interview” pledged to work for that trust, saying that he’s optimistic he can help Burlingtonians find common ground in discussions about public safety.

“I want to serve this city,” he said. “I don’t consider this job interview over.”

Others have jumped to Murad’s defense, including candidates looking to unseat Murad’s detractors on Town Meeting Day. Democrat Aleczander Stith, one of Dieng’s opponents in Ward 7, said in a press release Thursday evening that Murad can help rebuild the department, which “continues to hemorrhage experienced officers.”

“I strongly disagree with anyone who thinks it is ok to continue with the status quo,” Stith said. He urged the council to appoint Murad, who “has the support of his peers, his employees, the public, and my support as well.”

Rob Gutman, a Democrat challenging Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1), said in a press release Thursday that the city needs to move forward with a qualified candidate, and that he supports Murad’s appointment.

“In recent months I have spoken to hundreds of Burlingtonians and there is near universal concern for the state of public safety in our community,” Gutman said. “For this reason, it is deeply disappointing that some City Councilors have already pledged to block the appointment of the Acting Police Chief.”

Carpenter recognized that people are frustrated that the search has dragged on but said that’s no reason to rush the decision, which she called “too important to not feel confident in whoever we appoint.”

Dieng agreed, noting he suggested that Weinberger wait until after the March 1 elections to vote on the chief’s appointment. He said he’s confused why the mayor would move forward when his pick doesn’t have the votes.

“It seems like he’s wasting our time, and he’s playing politics,” Dieng said. “I don’t know what he has in his mind.”

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