Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger On Police Scandals, Stalled Redevelopment And The State Of the City
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has presided over a challenging year for Vermont's Queen City.
Major downtown redevelopment projects have stalled. The city has seen lawsuits over police officers' alleged use of excessive force. And just this week, a police department scandal ended in the chief's resignation. That's on top of ongoing challenges, from affordability to housing to homelessness.
Mayor Weinberger joined Vermont Edition to talk about the challenges facing Burlington this year and in the years to come.
The bulk of Thursday's conversation focused on the recent issues stemming from the online conduct of Burlington Police Department leadership.
Weinberger defended former Chief Brandon del Pozo’s "exceptional service" to the city during his tenure at the head of the department, but the mayor also said del Pozo "made two serious mistakes":
- Creating an anonymous account to interact with a critic
- Lying to a Seven Days reporter about it
Despite Weinberger initially placing del Pozo on administrative leave when being told about these actions in July, an investigation by the city attributed del Pozo’s actions to a medical condition and he was then placed on medical leave.
Weinberger pointed to related issues of employee privacy in trying to explain the way he handled communicating the situation to the public.
"Personnel actions are almost always unsatisfying to the media and to the public because by their nature they protect the employee at the expense of public transparency," Weinberger said. "And I think, in part, that is exactly what is playing out here."
Shortly after del Pozo’s resignation, Deputy Chief Jan Wright was named acting chief — only hours later to be removed from that post when Wright revealed that she had been interacting with the public using a fake Facebook account.
More from VPR — Burlington Police Chief Resigns, Department's Social Media Policy Under Review [Dec. 16]
Weinberger told Vermont Edition that a formal social media policy has been, and continues to be, in the works for the city — but that he has directed employees to follow the draft policy during this interim period.
"It may well be there's a much broader culture of problematic social media use in the police department than I had understood until Monday, essentially," Weinberger said, "and so we are hiring some kind of outside expert to come in and really review how social media is being used there."
However Weinberger did say that there can be "very legitimate … surreptitious social media use for law enforcement purposes" and that a social media policy would have to take that into account.
Weinberger said that he has never used an anonymous social media account.
Beyond the Burlington Police Department, Weinberger provided a quick update on Vermont Edition regarding the long-delayed CityPlace downtown redevelopment project.
"Since I sent this letter in September," Weinberger said, "there have been a number of important milestones that the project has gotten past."
But, the mayor warned: "I don't think we're fully out of the woods yet."
Though much remains up to the "private developer on private land with private capital that is doing this," Weinberger said, "they have said they will be back in the permitting process … by the early part of February. And let's hope they are able to keep that timetable and get it into construction in 2020."
Want to learn more about the CityPlace project? Check out a detailed timeline for the project.
Broadcast live on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.