Statehouse Rep Tapped by Burlington City for Outreach

by Kevin Joseph Ryan

The Administration of Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger made an announcement Tuesday, November 13 of a new hire. While the city hiring a new employee is not unusual, a formal announcement is just a bit. However, this is no normal employee. Burlington’s Community Economic Development Office (CEDO) made the new addition and that addition is newly re-elected State Representative Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) . Ms. Ram will be serving as the new City Development Specialist, focusing on improving community outreach and coordination as well as designing a new internship program for City Hall.

Ms. Ram, age 26, is currently the youngest member of the Vermont Legislature and is beginning her third term in the Vermont House. This past cycle she was re-elected to the Vermont House unopposed. According to Peter Owen, the Burlington CEDO Director, “One of the top priorities of the Administration is to rebuild trust with the public. To do this, we must be engaged and responsive. Kesha is a great listener and a gifted communicator with excellent relationships within the community who will bring tremendous energy and skill to our public engagement efforts.”

Among the work with which CEDO is tasked is managing disbursement of both state and federal funding within the City of Burlington and to lay out and implement strategic plans for city administration. This task, in terms of relating to community organizations such as the Neighborhood Planning Assemblies has been strained the past few years under both the former administration of Mayor Bob Kiss and the current watch of Miro Weinberger.

True North brought such strains to light this past June with the story of the Ward II/III NPA Chairman Charles Gianonni, who had made an attempt to appropriate city CEDO funding without the authorization of the NPA Board, but with the cooperation of then outgoing Development Specialist and liaison Laura Hale. The funding was ultimately donated to the Chittenden Food Shelf by former CEDO Head Larry Kupferman, who has also left the administration.

Another difficulty in outreach came this past spring, when in June 2012, the Burlington School Board voted 9-5 to retain Superintendent Jeanne Collins in a split vote following months of contentious debate involving the school systems diversity policies and a school walkout involving Somali high school students and the Occupy Movement. This issue has included Statehouse hearings with the student population and the final diversity policies of the city school system have not yet been settled.

One of Ms. Ram’s challenges will be to address such concerns between the city and community interest groups, including not only the NPA system but also the noteworthy New American Parents for Change, a group recently formed to address the issues of foreign English-as-Second Language students at City Schools. They were one of the few groups named in the press release put out by CEDO as a priority for Ms. Ram.

This will ultimately be a part-time position for Ms, Ram, as she will be engaged serving in Statehouse when the Legislative session resumes January 5, 2013. In the past legislative sessions, Representative Ram has been an advocate for GMO labeling legislation, single-payer health care and public housing, according to her website at www.kesharam.org. The website, however, does not appear to have been updated since April of 2012 and does not comment her recent hire to the City of Burlington.

Representative Ram was unavailable for comment at press time, however, her Facebook page does quote her as saying, “(I ) have my dream job serving the residents of Burlington!”