- File: Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
- Kyle Dodson at his introductory press conference last September
This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2021.
Kyle Dodson's short tenure with the City of Burlington began and ended the same way: with a boatload of controversy. Mayor Miro Weinberger tapped Dodson, a Black man who serves as president and CEO of the Greater Burlington YMCA, to lead the city's "police transformation" effort in September 2020. That month, protesters had occupied a city park to demand that the city fire three officers accused of violence and racism.
The mayor's move might have been designed to appease them and city council Progressives, but the latter group saw the hiring of Dodson — who had no experience leading police reform or racial justice efforts — as a unilateral move by Weinberger, a Democrat. He did not seek city council input before bringing Dodson on board.
Six months later, in March 2021, Dodson turned in his final report, which was supposed to be an all-encompassing review of police operations and public safety, including an analysis of department discipline procedures. But when I opened the document, something just felt ... off. For one, the report was only eight pages long, including the cover page. Its contents were equally unimpressive: In a section considering the role of police in communities, Dodson wrote that such a question should be "debated neighborhood-by-neighborhood, and resolved street-by-street."
I sent my editor Sasha Goldstein a message on Slack.
"A fifth grader could have written this report," I wrote, and emailed him a copy. "Did you see the Mark Twain quotes?"
It didn't take long for Sasha to see what I meant. "Oh, man," he wrote back. "We should run this [through an online checker] to see if any is plagiarized."
Reader, it was. I'd never heard of a plagiarism checker before, but the one we found on the web gave us a full picture of Dodson's shoddy work: More than half of the 1,542 words in the report weren't his own. The city paid Dodson $75,000 for his six-month gig, and this was his last word?
I called Dodson, who owned up to his copy-and-paste job. He said Burlington's polarized views around policing convinced him that the city wasn't ready for a constructive dialogue about real change. Dodson told me he was uncomfortable in the go-between role and that some people accused him of being a sellout for working closely with the police.
When Seven Days published the story, some readers were angry to discover that the person tasked with finding solutions for a seemingly intractable problem had essentially thrown up his hands. Others accused the paper of tarnishing the character of an upstanding public servant and person of color.
The Burlington Police Department had a different take: On November 16, it honored him with a certificate of appreciation for his outstanding service and contributions to public safety.