Open Letter to Burlington Mayor and City Council on REIB Office, Repair Needed, and Juneteenth Audit
August 16, 2023 To Mayor Miro Weinberger and the Burlington City Council,
I read with great concern the audit from Sheehey, Furlong, and Behm PC of the 2021 and 2022 Juneteenth city events and management of these events by Former REIB Director, Tyeastia Green. The decision to conduct an audit and the objective of the audit reveals a racist double standard and differential treatment of city department heads. The decision to pursue this line of questioning mars Former Director Green’s professional reputation and indicates the city’s harmful inability to support BIPOC leaders, specifically Black women. The audit also clearly misses the bigger and more pressing question on the lack of support and concern for staff well being within the city’s Racial, Equity Inclusion and Belonging (REIB) office.
This investigation and audit was set up to cause harm regardless of the findings. The city appears to have chosen an auditor lacking any expertise related to racial equity programming work or an understanding of how racial bias or systemic racism impacts their internal investigation analysis. As a result, the audit is full of problematic framing and biased interpretations of decision making to support the Juneteenth event. The use of terms like “red flags” and heavy-handed questioning of the use of out of state vendors and partners implies wrongdoing. The reality of good racial equity programming work in a majority-white, rural state requires a balance of in-state and out of state partnerships to produce high quality events. Also, the implication that relationships between Former Director Green and various contractors and vendors were “too close” ignores commonplace professional patterns in a small state with a limited professional service pool. The choice to use the phrase “mismanagement and carelessness” despite finding no wrongdoing is also significant and harmful. This same characterization has never been used to label the Mayor’s white, male department heads despite publicly known questionable management behavior - including Police Chief Murad and Former Airport Director Richards. This stark contrast highlights how the Mayor has protected and defended the professional reputation of white men, while allowing public scrutiny of Black women. The Mayor and city leaders must publicly acknowledge this double standard and the harm it creates.
Most importantly, the investigation is misplaced and focused on the wrong thing. The real question that has yet to be asked and answered is what led to Former Director Green’s decision to leave her city position and for several additional REIB staff to resign soon afterward? Moreover, why has the city been unable to leverage relationships and partnerships to financially support REIB programming? The audit briefly noted that a significant amount of the REIB staff (8 employees) resigned between 2022 and 2023 after Former Director Green’s departure from office. Fundraising from private partners to support the Juneteenth events also significantly dropped between 2021 and 2022. What led to this? If racial equity, inclusion and belonging is truly a priority for the city, the City must leverage resources to create a vibrant and successful city department. This includes understanding how bias, racism, and systemic harmful practices create an unsafe and unworkable workplace culture. Without this examination, it will be impossible for this new city department to succeed, especially one committed to advancing racial equity for our community. It will also be impossible to support BIPOC leaders and city staff in the ways they deserve.
Our city must do better and our city leaders, primarily our Mayor, must step forward to engage in conversations to repair the harm done. We need leaders who value true collaboration, self-reflection, and restorative practices to build a stronger community. This is particularly important in understanding dynamics of racism and the harm white leaders do to Black women. We must expect better and do better.
I encourage the City Council Human Resources Committee and the Mayor to investigate the unasked questions related to the systemic racial bias, toxic culture, and unrepaired harm with REIB staff. And most importantly, look to understand what changes must take place to fully support the leadership of BIPOC staff in our city, specifically Black women.
State Representative Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Chittenden 17 Former City Councilor (Ward 2 and 3) 2009-2012