BURLINGTON — Mayor Miro Weinberger is sticking with his pick for police chief.
At a press conference on the steps of Burlington City Hall on Thursday, Weinberger announced he will appoint Acting Chief Jon Murad to the permanent role at the next City Council meeting on June 5.
It will be Weinberger’s second attempt at permanently appointing Murad, who has held the interim job for three years but failed to secure the council’s approval in February 2022 amid Progressive opposition. The council’s makeup has since changed, giving Democrats an edge and, perhaps, enough votes for Murad’s appointment.
Weinberger announced the move with Murad by his side and more than 40 people standing behind them in support. The crowd included police officers, city councilors, business owners, city officials and other supporters.
“Our city needs and deserves a strong and reliable leader in our police department, and we have been fortunate to have one in Chief Murad for the last three years,” Weinberger said.
Murad also spoke at the press conference, saying he was grateful for the opportunity to “formalize” his status as chief.
“But I would keep doing this work regardless, as I have for 1,077 days,” Murad said, “but who’s counting?”
Burlington has been without a permanent police chief since Brandon Del Pozo resigned in December 2019. Jennifer Morrison stepped into the acting chief job for several months until she also stepped down. Murad has since served as acting chief.
Ever since Democrats picked up a council seat in an East District special election in December 2022, Weinberger’s office has maintained that the mayor would make another appointment in 2023, but the timing was not disclosed.
Weinberger noted on Thursday that the city charter requires him to make appointments for the upcoming fiscal year at the first City Council meeting in June.
Earlier this year, in an episode first reported by Seven Days, Murad faced criticism for his handling of an incident with an emergency department doctor at the University of Vermont Medical Center in August 2022. In a complaint filed with the city, the doctor alleged that Murad used a threatening tone while police were attempting to question a shooting victim while the shooter was still at-large.
When revelations of the complaint surfaced in April, Weinberger defended Murad, saying he and Murad had met with the doctor and Murad had apologized.
Progressive members of the council used the doctor’s complaint as evidence that he was not fit for the position.
In an interview following the press conference, Councilor Joe Magee, P-Ward 3, said the Progressive caucus is “unified in their opposition to this appointment.”
“I haven’t seen anything change since we first considered it last January,” Magee said.
Magee listed concerns from the last year, including an extra-duty contract for a condo complex. The issues show “a real lack of open and transparent leadership within the department.”
Magee said he hoped other councilors would “consider the concerns the community has raised” when voting on the appointment. Magee said he wasn’t sure how the vote would go, but noted that councilors such as Ali Dieng, I-Ward 7, have expressed reservations about voting on the appointment before the Vermont Criminal Justice Council completes an investigation regarding the doctor’s complaint.
On Thursday, Weinberger was asked about the criminal justice council complaint, which was referred by the Burlington Police Commission last year. Weinberger said the city attorney thought it was “highly unlikely” that the criminal justice council would find a violation.
“I think it would be a mistake to continue to wait to make this important step for the community of having a permanent chief,” Weinberger said.
Councilors Joan Shannon, D-South District, and Mark Barlow, I-North District, voiced their support for the acting chief in prior comments and stood behind Weinberger at City Hall on Thursday.
Council President Karen Paul, D-Ward 6, and Ben Traverse, D-Ward 5, were among those who were more reserved in their comments last month, declining to state how they would vote.
Weinberger said Thursday he expects Murad to be confirmed by the council, noting that Murad has shown progress during his tenure and particularly since his previous appointment to the council.
He referenced Burlingtonians denying a proposal for an independent control board to oversee the police department by a nearly 2-1 ratio in March.
“We just had a very decisive Town Meeting Day where the public made clear they expect us to forge progress on public safety,” Weinberger said. “That’s what Chief Murad has been doing in the acting role. I’m confident the council’s going to see that too.”