Two senior officials in Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s administration are stepping down.
Brian Lowe, the city’s chief innovation officer, and David White, director of city planning and zoning, are the latest city officials to head toward the exits.
The city’s head attorney, Eileen Blackwood, is leaving June 30 after nine years in the Job. Luke McGowen left in early February to become an adviser at the White House. Ward 3 Progressive City Councilor Brian Pine was recently appointed to take his place.
Olivia LaVecchia, the mayor’s spokesperson, left in early April to pursue a city and regional planning degree in grad school. Weinberger’s most recent campaign manager — Samantha Sheehan, who also directed Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s successful campaign — took LaVecchia’s place. Former police commission member Kerin Durfee was recently appointed to fill a vacancy as city’s human resources director.
And the city still doesn’t have a permanent chief of police. Jon Murad has been acting chief since June 2020 and has expressed interest in being appointed as the chief. Weinberger announced last month that the police chief search will resume; it was postponed during the pandemic.
Burlington is hardly the only local government experiencing turnover in the country right now.
The New York Times reports that mayors across the country are deciding not to run for reelection, citing pandemic burnout. Many have said the traumas and crises of Covid-19 have made the jobs unbearable.
And it’s not just government jobs. Experts expect mass turnover in various industries, as many stuck with their current jobs during the pandemic, and demand has pent up for career pivoting.
While Weinberger confirmed to VTDigger Wednesday that he’s staying put after recently winning a fourth term, he acknowledged that the city is experiencing considerable turnover. But he said that isn’t unusual at the start of a new mayoral term, and his administration experienced similar exits in 2018.
“I actually ask for people at the beginning of a new term to reflect on where they’re at,” Weinberger said. “I would much prefer turnover at the beginning of a term than closer toward the end of the term.”
He said city jobs can be grueling and pandemic burnout is a real issue that workplaces need to account for. But Lowe and White planned their exits before the pandemic and are not leaving because of burnout, Weinberger said. Both men said the same to VTDigger. The same is true for Blackwood, Weinberger said.
White told VTDigger he’ll continue working part-time in the planning and zoning division as a senior adviser so that he can stick with the work while spending more time with his grandkids.
White said he and his staff have pivoted the past 14 months to prop up the city’s Covid-19 analytics, and they’re just starting to go back to work as usual. He said he probably would have left sooner, but it was “all hands on deck” for the city’s Covid-19 response.
“I kind of hung in there to do this for another year and I’m just ready to make a transition to less night meetings,” White said.
He’s worked for the city for 26 years, 13 of them as head of zoning and planning; he was also interim director of the Community Economic Development Office in 2019. White said there’s no definite end date for his current role. He’ll stay until a search for his replacement is completed.
Lowe’s last day with the city is June 4. He told VTDigger now is the right time to leave his chief innovation job, as the pandemic has begun to subside. He’s held the position since 2018 and worked in Burlington city government for seven and a half years.
He said he’ll remain in the Burlington area and has a few new professional opportunities, but declined to name his next move.
Lowe was a regular at the mayor’s weekly Covid-19 briefings and helped organize a trove of the city’s data on Covid-19 case rates and immunization levels. He also worked to bring the city’s Covid-19 wastewater detection system online, which used tests in an effort to get an early line on where outbreaks of the virus were going to take place.
“During the pandemic, I’ve had all kinds of additional responsibilities, which has been great,” Lowe said. “With that really hopefully coming to a close, it made sense for me just to kind of assess.”
He echoed the mayor’s sentiment that turnover is common when a new term begins. He said he wouldn’t attribute his exit to Covid burnout.
“I genuinely loved the work,” he said. “It just felt like the right time.”
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