The South Burlington city council surprised outgoing city manager Kevin Dorn at a recent meeting by naming the under-construction senior center after him: the Kevin L. Dorn Senior Center. Some community members were also surprised — and concerned — at the announcement, which came at the end of a council meeting June 21 in a resolution honoring Dorn’s retirement this week.
Councilors took turns reading from the resolution, listing Dorn’s various accomplishments in his eight-year tenure.
“Kevin served as city manager during unprecedented times during the pandemic, ensuring the best possible protection, safety and well-being of employees, making sure all departments were well-resourced to handle the efforts,” read councilor Meaghan Emery from the resolution.
When Helen Riehle announced the name, Dorn covered his mouth in shock. He wiped a finger under one eye before expressing his thanks.
“I’m overwhelmed — I’m simply overwhelmed. The senior center recognition is just, hugely powerful to me. I’m very touched by this, thank you,” Dorn said at the meeting.
But in the days following the announcement, some community members expressed “concern,” Riehle said this week. She pointed to the recent publication of an opinion article Dorn wrote and submitted to The Other Paper supporting police officers in schools, as the source of some criticism.
Riehle explained some have “interpreted” Dorn’s op-ed as “racist and mean-spirited.”
In Dorn’s article, published June 17, he argued in favor of keeping police in schools as a way to break down “misconceptions,” which he noted South Burlington school board member Travia Childs’ raised in her comments on why some students of color may feel frightened of school resource officers.
Among those who criticized the op-ed was school board chair Bridget Burkhardt, who called it “an example of white privilege in action,” in an opinion article published in The Other Paper June 24.
Earlier this week, Dorn defended his op-ed as being based off local police data, not national data. “What I was doing in the article ... was to use Dr. Childs’ reference to perception as a jumping off point to talk about the reality of things in South Burlington,” he said. “Some people read into it more than I wrote. But everybody can have an opinion.”
“My intent was not to upset or attack her at all. Very much the opposite,” Dorn said.
Councilors will not walk the senior center name backwards, Riehle added, though some community members have called for the center to be named after the late Jennifer Kochman. A South Burlington resident active in women’s health rights advocacy and as a volunteer on various city committees, Kochman died earlier this month.
Riehle noted that Dorn’s op-ed was “perhaps ... not as artfully said as he would have wanted,” but that she and her fellow councilors “all feel that he deserves that honor. He did a lot to make that library happen and, in particular, he really pushed and convinced the library to give up some space to the senior center.”
The city hopes to honor Kochman’s advocacy and contributions to the community in another way, she added. To switch the name now would be “a little quick” without much thought or input from Kochman’s family, Riehle said.