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April 16, 2012

In Burgeoning Bromance, Burlington Mayor Taps Best Bud for City Attorney

DSC03411When Miro Weinberger first considered running for mayor of Burlington last summer, he turned to attorney and friend Ian Carleton for political advice. Now that he’s settling into his new digs in City Hall, Weinberger hopes to turn to Carleton for legal advice.

On Monday morning, the mayor tapped his best bro and political consigliere for the role of city attorney.

“Ian is somebody I’ve known for a decade as a friend, as a professional, as a public official for much of that time,” Weinberger said at a City Hall press conference.

The mayor said he’d be “hard-pressed to find a candidate that is more qualified for the city attorney position than Ian Carleton.”

An attorney at Sheehey Furlong and Behm, Carleton has deep political roots in city and state politics, having served as a three-term city councilor representing Ward 1, president of the council and chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party. If confirmed, Carleton would replace Ken Schatz, who is retiring from the job.

“This opportunity is particularly exciting for me because I think it gives me an opportunity to use what I have trained to become — that is, an attorney — to serve the citizens of Burlington in the best way I know how,” Carleton said.

Weinberger alerted city councilors Sunday that he would seek Carleton’s confirmation at an April 30 meeting. In a memo to councilors, the mayor requested a higher salary — $112,000 — than his nominee would otherwise receive, citing Carleton’s extensive private practice experience. Weinberger also asked the council to waive the requirement that department heads live in Burlington. Carleton now lives in Huntington.

“I mean, no one gave Ian a harder time when he moved out to Huntington than I did,” Weinberger joked, emphasizing that Carleton has lived and worked in Burlington and is committed to the city.

As for the salary request, Weinberger said Carleton would be taking “a very significant” pay cut by entering the city’s employ.

“I will sleep much better at night as mayor knowing that that office is being run by someone with Ian’s background even if we’re paying a couple thousand more than we might for some other candidate,” he said. “I certainly feel like we’ll be getting a good deal with this price.”

Two new Progressives on the council — Rachel Siegel and Max Tracy — said Monday that Carleton’s partisan role as chairman of the state Dems does not trouble them. They said they look forward to meeting with Carleton before a vote on his confirmation.

But Republican Councilor Paul Decelles thinks otherwise.

“Had [former Republican mayoral candidate Kurt Wright] won and put forward a name similar to Ian’s from the Republican Party, I would have told him he was crazy and it’s the wrong foot forward,” Decelles says. “Being so close to the campaign and being one of Miro’s best friends and being the ex-state chair, I do have concerns about that.”

Decelles called the chairmanship of the state’s three major political parties “the most partisan three positions you can hold in the entire state.” Because the council relies upon the city attorney’s office for legal advice, Decelles says it’s important that the office remain nonpartisan and not overly beholden to the mayor.

“To have one of Miro’s best friends [as city attorney], it may make things uncomfortable for the rest of us who are not Democrats,” he said.

Carleton addressed his partisan past at the press conference.

“I’ve always found it quite easy to separate partisan political activism from what I do as an attorney, which is to represent clients with loyalty and zealously,” he said. “I don’t believe I’ll have any problem serving the city councilors — regardless of their political affiliations — fairly and neutrally.”

Carleton said he sought to remain a partner at Sheehey Furlong and Behm even while serving as city attorney, but determined that conflict-of-interest concerns prevented him from doing so. Because he and his firm represent Green Mountain Power, whose interests occasionally collide in regulatory matters with those of the city-owned Burlington Electric Department, Carleton thought it better to play it safe and sever ties with the firm.

“Even though there isn’t a technical or existing conflict of interest between those two entities right now, it doesn’t seem prudent for me to be connected to both a law firm representing GMP and a city attorney’s office, which represents Burlington Electric Department,” he said.

Carleton is the second of Weinberger’s appointees with a history of working for Green Mountain Power, which is embroiled in a controversy concerning the proposed acquisition by its parent company, Gaz Metro, of Central Vermont Public Service. Weinberger’s pick for interim chief administrative officer, Paul Sisson, a retired auditor, worked as a consultant for GMP until last November. He said Monday he has severed ties with the company.

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