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New Rutland mayor prioritizes transparency for restarted refugee program

By   /   March 8, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

RUTLAND, Vt. — Voters unseated incumbent Mayor Christopher Louras by an overwhelming majority Tuesday in a campaign that focused on the city’s secretive process that produced a plan to resettle Syrian refugees. Now, Mayor-elect Dave Allaire says he will have an open-door in conducting city business.

“This will be a focal point of my early days,” Allaire told Watchdog. “I plan to reach out, and hopefully (Vermont Refugee Resettlement Agency) will reach out to me. I plan to have a discussion with them, and tell them my thoughts about how the process was conducted.”

Photo courtesy of David Allaire

MAYOR-ELECT: David Allaire says he will run a more open, less secretive administration than his predecessor as Rutland’s mayor.

Rutland was in the spotlight last year when the city of 17,000 became a destination for Syrian refugees. Only two families out of a promised 100 people arrived before an executive order by President Donald Trump halted refugee resettlement in January.

Enforcement of that order was blocked by a federal court. On Monday, Trump signed a new executive order that does not include an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, and allows refugees to enter after a four-month buffer period, during which time immigration officials will work to strengthen security screening protocols.

In the interim, VRRP and USCRI have continued to pursue refugee settlement in the city, despite anger from residents regarding the agencies’ secretive dealings with city officials, including the ousted mayor.

This week, Lavinia Limon, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, told the Burlington Free Press that only about 50 people are now likely to settle in Rutland. USCRI did not respond to Watchdog’s request for comment.

Don Chioffi, a leader of the pro-transparency citizens group Rutland First, has long maintained that state and national media exaggerated community support for resettlement.

“(We have) maintained, since day one back in April, that this kind of … undemocratic, un-American, secrecy would not be tolerated by the great majority of Rutland region voters,” Don Chioffi, a leader of the pro-transparency citizens group Rutland First, told Watchdog.

“The mayor still did not listen. As a matter of fact, he got even more emboldened,” he said. “It is always great when truth, justice and the will of the people wins an election — and, as we said right along — it was not even close.”

Allaire won with 52 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Louras.

“Everybody I speak with, it’s not about refugees. It’s about the process and that it was done behind the backs of voters,” said Allaire. “I plan to have a regular routine of speaking with the media and businesses, relaying who I’m talking to. … I will have the same process with the board of aldermen, and try to start good relationships with the new board members.”

But it’s unclear how much say Allaire will have in how the refugee process is conducted. Since Louras announced plans to make Rutland a resettlement site in April, 2016, VRRP has moved forward independently of local government and city residents.

Whether Rutland’s voters were reacting to the secrecy or the resettlement policy itself, polls have shown that a majority of Americans support Trump’s attempts to slam the brakes on immigration and resettlement from countries with a terrorism problem.

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said that 300 of the FBI’s 1,000 domestic terrorism investigations involve persons admitted to the United States as refugees.

Emma Lamberton is Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter. Contact her at [email protected] or @EmmaBeth9.

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Emma Lamberton is Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter. She has written for the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, two of Vermont’s largest newspapers, and her work has published in The Washington Times, FoxNews.com and a number of local Vermont newspapers. She is also a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. Emma is always looking for new stories. Readers are encouraged to contact her with tips and story ideas.