By Adam Federman, VTDigger.org
CASTLETON—Castleton Selectboard Chairman Joseph Bruno delivered a sharp rebuke to a petitioner seeking a townwide vote on resettling refugees in the area and said she had become a “victim of fear.” Bruno added that the Board had sought outside counsel on the petition and determined it had no jurisdiction over the matter. “This board is not in a position to make political petitions,” he said.
The petition, filed by Debra Regimbald, is one of a handful that have circulated in the wake of Rutland Mayor Chris Louras’ effort to bring Syrian refugees to the region. The Rutland Town Selectboard unanimously denied a similarly worded petition on the grounds that the town has no jurisdiction over the federally run refugee program. Another petition that had been drafted in Pawlet was never filed.
Regimbald’s petition asks the town of Castleton to reject resettlement “due to significant lack of factual and financial information.” It had the required number of signatures—5 percent of registered voters—but was presented to the Board too late to be included on the Aug. 9 primary ballot. Acknowledging it was too late to add the measure to the primary ballot, Regimbald asked to read a statement on Sharia law at Monday evening’s meeting and made the claim that Syrian refugees had already started arriving in Rutland.
But Bruno said the State Department has yet to make a decision on Syrian refugee resettlement in Rutland. He dismissed her argument that Syrian refugees were coming to the United States to impose Sharia law and said rather they were “running for their lives” in what has become an international crisis.
Reached before the meeting, Castleton Board member James Leamy said, “I don’t have any position at this time. I’m waiting to see what the other board members say.” Members Richard Combs, Robert Spaulding and William Potter did not return calls asking for comment.
Town Manager Mark Shea said he had no personal opinion on the matter and that Regimbald had been the only person who talked to him about it. “I haven’t heard anything except from her,” he said.
Town Clerk Nedra Boutwell said the petition had received 152 signatures. It needed 145 to meet the 5 percent threshold.
On July 5 Rutland’s Board of Aldermen came up just short of the number of votes needed to approve a ballot initiative on refugee resettlement. At its July 5 meeting, Rutland’s Board of Aldermen approved a letter to the State Department withholding the Board’s support for the program due to what it cited as lack of information and outreach. “As the governing entity of the city,” Board members wrote, “we do not feel we are currently in a position to be able to provide a letter of support for the proposal to establish a new reception and placement program in Rutland.” The Board voted 7 to 3 in favor of sending the letter.
Rutland’s Board was scheduled to discuss whether to retain outside counsel on questions related to refugee resettlement at its meeting Thursday night, July 21. Part of the meeting was held in executive session and closed to the public.
The issue is far from settled, though. Fred Haas, a member of the group Rutland First, which is opposed to resettlement “at this time,” said, “I would like to see our group continue on even after the resettlement issue has been resolved, either way the wind blows.” He added: “We are far from done with our work on the refugee resettlement issue.”
According to the most recent figures, the war in Syria has led to the dislocation of nearly 5 million Syrians. Many of them have fled to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. European countries have also taken in large numbers of Syrian refugees, and Canada has welcomed nearly 30,000 since November.
The United States has pledged to accommodate 10,000 refugees from Syria, and the State Department says it will decide in the coming months where those refugees will be placed.