Amid scrutiny, Miro Weinberger promises action on racial justice

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger speaks after being re-elected to a fourth term on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

After recent stumbles on racial justice issues, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger pledged Monday to address inequities in his annual State of the City speech. He acknowledged that his administration’s prior work on the issue has been “inadequate.”

The city will “substantially increase” the size of the city’s office of racial equity, inclusion and belonging, Weinberger announced, and implement new anti-racist training for city staff — part of his plan, he said, “to make racial justice central to the work of local government.”

For the mayor, Monday’s speech was an opportunity to repent for a series of scandals that have brought renewed scrutiny of his leadership just weeks after he narrowly won re-election.

In March, Weinberger removed the city’s director of racial equity, Tyeastia Green — a Black woman — from her role in overseeing a major assessment of the Burlington police department, ignoring counsel from Black leaders .

He briefly placed Darren Springer, the general manager of the Burlington Electric Department and a white man, in charge of the assessment, before reversing the decision two days later after resounding backlash.

Two weeks later, Weinberger again came under fire when Seven Days revealed that Kyle Dodson, whom Weinberger had appointed as temporary director of “police transformation” in September, had plagiarized much of his final report, which many said was flimsy to begin with. Dodson was paid $75,000 for a six-month contract with the city.

The controversial decisions prompted calls for the mayor’s resignation.

Ahead of Monday’s speech, a group calling itself Gotta Go Miro put out a public statement demanding the mayor resign. The statement cites, in large part, a “pattern of taking racist actions and making racist decisions for the city.”

“As the Mayor prepares to take an oath for his fourth term tonight, we are asking him to reconsider and instead, resign,” former City Councilor Rachel Siegel said in the group’s press release.

A petition demanding Weinberger’s resignation had collected more than 700 signatures as of Monday night. Several Burlington residents echoed the call at a recent City Council meeting , though the city’s Progressive councilors have stopped short of that demand.

“In recent weeks, I have caused harm to the Black community in Burlington, and particularly to Black women in Burlington,” Weinberger said Monday. “For that, I am truly sorry.”

In addition to the additional funding for the racial equity, inclusion and belonging department, Weinberger announced he would secure permanent funding for the city’s “Trusted Community Voices” program, which conducts outreach to refugee and immigrant communities in the city, and create a plan to reduce racial disparities in homeownership.

“I know that explicitly targeting government effort and resources toward BIPOC Vermonters causes discomfort for some,” Weinberger said, but added this analysis “ignores our history” of explicit racial discrimination in policy.

“We are going to need to use strategies that are race-based to address that harm,” he said.

In his remarks about policing in the city, Weinberger grew more vague. He repeated previous calls to “forge a new consensus” around public safety in Burlington and said he was committed to “trying again” on the issue of police oversight in the days ahead, following his veto of a proposed independent oversight board in December.

Following Monday’s speech, organizers with Gotta Go Miro released a statement to the press.

“We heard Mayor Weinberger say some things we agree with tonight,” the group wrote. “However, we have seen him say the right thing and do the wrong thing before. We hope this time is different.”

“We will be holding the Mayor accountable to the words he spoke tonight,” the organizers said.

Monday’s event, the second Organization Day to be held over Zoom, also featured the swearing in of newly elected city councilors, and elections for council president and for the council’s Board of Finance.

Incumbent councilors Joan Shannon, Perri Freeman and Jack Hanson, along with newcomer Mark Barlow, were formerly sworn into office after their victories on Town Meeting Day.

Progressive Max Tracy, who narrowly lost to Weinberger in this year’s mayoral race, was also unanimously reelected as City Council president.

“It’s been an absolute honor and joy to serve as City Council president,” Tracy said, adding that he “looked forward to a year of shared partnership” with councilors and the administration.

Finally, councilors Karen Paul, a Democrat; Ali Dieng, an Independent; and Progressive Brian Pine were unanimously reelected to serve on the city’s Board of Finance.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Amid scrutiny, Miro Weinberger promises action on racial justice .

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