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July 09, 2012

Weinberger Nominates Eileen Blackwood for City Attorney, Would Be First Woman in Top Legal Job

Eileen BlackwoodBurlington Mayor Miro Weinberger's first pick for city attorney ended badly, but his new nominee appears likely to win confirmation when the City Council meets on July 16.

On Monday, Weinberger announced the nomination of Eileen Blackwood (pictured with the mayor), a former president of the Vermont Bar Association and for many years the principal in a Burlington law firm.

This time, Weinberger gave prior notice of his pick to city councilors, who had "a very positive response" to Blackwood, the mayor said at a City Hall Park press conference. He called Blackwood "one of the most respected and admired attorneys" in the state, and pointed out that she would be the first woman to serve as Burlington city attorney.

She and her wife, mental health counselor Lynn Goyette, were also among the first couples to be joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000.

In brief remarks at the press event, Blackwood steered clear of controversy. In particular, she and Weinberger were not seeking her exemption from the city's stepped pay system, which entitles her to earn what the mayor said would be "a little under $110,000." That's "somewhat less" than what retiring city attorney Ken Schatz makes, Weinberger noted.

Ian Carleton, Weinberger's first nominee for the city attorney job, was withdrawn from consideration after several councilors criticized the rookie mayor's proposal to pay Carleton $7000 more than the step system specifies. Carleton, a BFF of Weinberger's, didn't help his own case by arguing that he was entitled to make bigger money because he had earned a degree from Yale Law School.

Blackwood said in response to a reporter's question on Monday that she got her law degree from Cornell. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 1980 with what her resume lists as a "special major in women and education."

Blackwood is currently a partner in the Hinesburg firm of Kohn Rath Blackwood & Danon, which she joined in 2009 via a merger with her own Burlington firm. She lives in Williston, but Weinberger noted that Blackwood intends to move to Burlington if confirmed as city attorney.

It was in Williston that Blackwood, who has been active in Democratic politics, failed in her only bid to date for elected office. She fell short a few years ago in what she describes as a multi-candidate race for justice of the peace — a post that usually does not attract many contenders.

Several challenges await Blackwood's attention. The untangling of Burlington Telecom's legal and financial knots ranks foremost among them, with Blackwood also citing construction of the Champlain Parkway and renovation of the Moran Plant as unresolved issues that will require her counsel.

Weinberger described Blackwood as an "excellent listener and communicator" as well as an "extremely well-rounded person." She was co-head coach of the St. Michael's College women's lacrosse team from 1997 to 2000 and has refereed high school and college field hockey and lacrosse games.

Photo by Kevin J. Kelley

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