On September 14, 2016

City Attorney clears mayor in resettlement efforts

By Adam Federman, VTDigger
RUTLAND — The city attorney has concluded the mayor did not violate the city charter in his efforts to have refugees settled in Rutland.
The much-anticipated review of the mayor’s actions in selecting Rutland as a potential site for up to 100 Syrians and Iraqis to resettle was emailed to Selet Board members Sunday night, Sept. 11. The 26-page report cannot be released to the public without a Board vote, but two sources told VTDigger the report clears Mayor Chris Louras of violating the charter.
The Board meets Monday, Sept. 19, and would need a three-fourths majority to suspend the rules to take up the issue and then a simple majority to release the report by City Attorney Charles Romeo. However, Louras, who has not been provided a copy, has requested a special meeting of the board to make the report public.
“Whatever’s in the report,” Louras said, “it would serve the public well if it were to be released immediately by the Board of Aldermen.”
“I would be surprised if the Board didn’t want to release this,” said alderman Chris Ettori. Ettori said the report was very thorough—it has about 60 footnotes—but would not comment on the contents. “He [the eity attorney] laid everything out in detail,” Ettori said.
Board president William Notte, who had skimmed the document, said he too hopes it’s made public. “I think this will be a very helpful document to be made public,” he said. “I would encourage the full Board of Aldermen to take that route.”
Alderwoman Sharon Davis said she hadn’t had a chance to read the full document but that the review was part of a larger effort by the Board to gather information about the resettlement process. “One of the questions was the charter,” Davis said. “If you look at the letter of commitment saying the city is open to refugee resettlement, was that in the power of the mayor alone? That’s what we’re looking at.”
Alderman Tom DePoy said he’d read about a third of the report and that it was far too early to comment. DePoy said he had questions for City Attorney Charles Romeo but hadn’t had a chance to speak with him yet.
Aldermen Ed Larson and Dave Allaire declined to comment on the report. Aldermen Gary Donohue, Melinda Humphrey, Vanessa Robertson, and Scott Tommola could not be reached immediately for comment.
The decision to investigate the mayor’s actions was made during a closed-door executive session in late July. At the time, Alderman Allaire, who originally made the motion to seek outside counsel, said the Board wanted to know if the mayor had “operated by the rules” and if he “went above and beyond his authority according to the charter.” The Board ultimately decided against seeking outside counsel and asked the city attorney to review the matter.
The mayor and Board of Aldermen have been at loggerheads since Louras announced in April that Rutland was being considered as a resettlement site for up to 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The mayor consulted with a small group of stakeholders, mostly area business leaders, Board President William Notte, and the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program in the months leading up to the announcement. Some Board members say they were kept in the dark and have condemned the mayor’s actions as secretive and undemocratic.
In early July the Board approved a letter to the State Department withholding their support of refugee resettlement due to lack of information. This week the Community and Economic Development Committee will consider a second letter again asking for more information and that the State Department disregard any and all letters of support for resettlement. If the letter makes it out of committee, the full Board will have the opportunity to vote on it Monday.
The refugee resettlement program is federally funded and administered by the State Department. A decision on resettlement sites is expected in October.

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