Featured, Local News

Duffy resigns as leader of RRA



By Katy Savage

After coming under scrutiny by some members of the Board of Aldermen, Brennan Duffy resigned from his role as executive director of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority (RRA) this past Thursday, Oct. 13. His last day will be Oct. 31.

“This resignation appears to be the most expeditious, and least controversial, means of moving forward for both parties,” Duffy wrote in his resignation letter.

Duffy further explained in a statement that the current circumstances between the Aldermen and RRA make his job “untenable.”

“While I believe my leadership has been effective and efficient, 11 years in a position such as this is a long time, and I recognize the opportunity to move forward in my professional career in a new capacity,” he said.

Duffy will receive a lump sum of $45,000 and family health insurance until Dec. 31 as part of a separation agreement signed on Oct. 13. Duffy and the RRA board also agreed to not disparage each other orally or in writing. RRA chair Ed Clark said it will be difficult to move forward with current projects in Duffy’s absence.

“The temperature is pretty tough right now,” Clark said. “In the grand scheme of things, I hope it’s the best decision for him going forward and I hope it works out for the RRA. It’s been a tough go the past couple of months. We’re in a tough environment.”

Duffy’s resignation followed a Board of Aldermen meeting on Oct. 3, where Alderman Thomas Franco made a motion to defund the RRA just enough to terminate Duffy’s position. Franco, who represents the Aldermen on the RRA board, attended three RRA meetings before he made his motion, according to minutes.

Franco was present for an RRA meeting on Aug. 9 where resident Stephen Box accused the board of violating the open meeting law, making discriminatory remarks, and not being helpful with Box’s pursuit of funds to turn a commercial building into apartment units for homeless veterans. Franco took Box’s side at the meeting and asked Duffy to be more transparent.

Franco said in a recent phone interview that he saw “red flags” at that meeting.

“That’s just one example of where there was a community member who was interested in pursuing a development project in Rutland city, and yet here we were having a public issue around navigating those resources,” he said.

Franco said he’s heard numerous other concerns from the public about the RRA. Some of those concerns were discussed publicly at an Oct. 11 RRA meeting where Franco said he wanted to see a measurable outline for economic development in the city with the RRA being more of a leader and not just a “pass through entity,” according to meeting minutes.

Duffy attempted to defend himself at the meeting by providing a quarterly report of all projects he’s working on. Duffy rated each project — a No. 1 for when the RRA took the lead on a project, a No. 2 for when the RRA worked collaboratively with another organization and aNo. 3 for when the RRA was not directly involved.

Duffy gave all 17 redevelopment projects a No. 1 or a No. 2 ranking, including the redevelopment of Center Street and the purchase of the former College of St. Joseph by Casella Waste. Duffy said he also took the lead on a business plan competition to create an entrepreneur ecosystem.

The board then went into executive session at Franco’s suggestion despite Duffy’s protests about being excluded from an unwarned executive session likely related to his job performance.

Duffy resigned two days later.

Duffy’s departure has split the Board of Aldermen. Sharon Davis, a longtime board member, criticized Franco. “I think this is a gentleman who hasn’t been in this city very long. He doesn’t really have the pulse of this community,” Davis said in a phone call. “I don’t think Mr. Franco should continue to sit as a representative to the RRA because I don’t think he can help it more forward. I think there’s too many hard feelings on that board.”

Davis said Franco’s move was political, adding that this is the most difficult Board of Aldermen she’s been part of.

“We have a board that votes in blocks, because they have their own agenda, and this was just one of them. And it’s unfortunate,” Davis said.

“I think this was smokescreen and mirrors and they just wanted him gone,” Davis said.

Rutland Mayor David Allaire also said Duffy was mistreated in the process. “I think it’s such a disservice to the city and certainly not fair to the person it happened to,” he said. “I think a lot of the criticism that was leveled at him was unfair. I think a lot of it is probably politically motivated, because… we seem to be starting a mayoral campaign on a number of fronts pretty early. I think Brennan is a casualty of that.”

Allaire said he’s concerned about future redevelopment projects in the city with a leaderless RRA.

Some Aldermen have also been critical of the mayor, who is being challenged by Aldermen President Mike Doenges at the Town Meeting Day vote in March.

While Franco’s motion to defund the RRA was made with little discussion and seemingly “came out of nowhere,” according to Allaire, fellow Alderman Chris Ettori has been consistently critical of the RRA for about 10 years.

“I honestly think this is the best result that could have happened,” Ettori said in a phone interview.

Ettori said he tried to have a conversation with Duffy about his leadership style many times, dating back to 2012. “For me there were a lot of issues around collaboration,” Ettori said.

Ettori said he and Franco discussed the issues with the RRA many times. Some of the concerns came to Duffy’s personality.

“Brennan was really good at getting the things done that were in front of him,” Ettori said, but said Duffy wasn’t proactive in seeking redevelopment.

“There were opportunities that we were missing.” The board will begin to search for a new RRA executive director, though there isn’t a timeframe for Duffy’s replacement. “I want to see someone who is actively seeking out projects, someone who really intentionally connects stakeholders in the community,” Franco said. “I really want to make sure we are intentionally moving forward, leveraging this moment as an opportunity to rethink how the RRA functions, what our objectives are and really make sure we’re being strategic when it comes to economic development and redevelopment.”

RRA chair Ed Clark was hopeful the two entities could work together. “I like to think that everyone on the Board of Aldermen and everyone on our board and everyone in city government ultimately wants the same goals for the city — to be a good place to live and improve things to make it better than it is,” Clark said.

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