Rutland City Attorney: Mayor's Resettlement Effort Did Not Violate City Charter

Sep 20, 2016

Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras did not violate the city’s charter in his quest to make Rutland the state’s newest refugee resettlement community, according to a 26-page report by Rutland City Attorney Charles Romeo.

For months, there have been questions percolating in Rutland as to whether the mayor overstepped in his efforts to resettle refugees.

On Aug. 1, the Rutland Board of Aldermen called for an investigation into the mayor’s actions. The resulting report has been in the board’s hands for more than a week, but due to attorney-client privilege, it’s been off limits to the public until now.

At their regular meeting Monday night, the board of aldermen spent almost two hours in executive session discussing the report in detail with the city attorney. Just after 9 p.m., the 11-member panel voted unanimously to release it to the public.

Board President William Notte says the refugee issue is one that has raised passionate emotions among board members, and he says the lengthy discussion helped clarify the 26-page report.

The mayor and some community members felt the board had taken too long to release the report, especially considering all the calls for improved transparency.

The document provides a detailed step-by-step of how the mayor came up with and then moved forward with his idea to try and bring refugees to Rutland — including who he talked to and who he didn’t — beginning last fall.

The report states, “There is no basis to conclude the Mayor violated the City Charter in his actions relative to the proposal of Rutland as a refugee resettlement site ... It is unlikely the Mayor’s actions would be subject to review by a court.”

City Attorney Romeo looked closely at the semantics of the charter in his report. He states, “The legality of the Mayor’s actions relative to the proposal of refugee resettlement under the City charter comes down to the meaning of this sentence (section 9-9.1 of the Charter): 'He or she shall recommend measures and proposals for consideration of the Board of Aldermen, to insure progressive, prudent, and efficient management of the affairs of the City.'” 

"There is no basis to conclude the Mayor violated the City Charter in his actions relative to the proposal of Rutland as a refugee resettlement site." - From a report by Charles Romeo, Rutland city attorney

Romeo points out that the phrase “to insure progressive, prudent, and efficient management of the affairs of the City” is separated from the phrase “for the consideration of the Board of Aldermen” by a comma. As a result, Romeo concludes, based on legal precedent, the two phrases are independent of one another.

The city attorney also states that he found no evidence that the mayor made any promise or commitment of municipal resources or funds to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

As to concerns that the mayor left out the Board of Aldermen in this process, the report found that “there is no basis to conclude that a mayor, writing a letter of support for an initiative without consulting the board of aldermen, contravenes the charter or exceeds the mayor’s authority.”

"There had never been a question in my mind that my actions were anything but appropriate legal and warranted." - Rutland City Mayor Christopher Louras

Mayor Louras was not at Monday night’s meeting, but in a cell phone interview afterwards, he said this wasn’t about feeling vindicated. “Because there had never been a question in my mind that my actions were anything but appropriate legal and warranted.”

Kevin and Sue Pratico, of Rutland, were at the Board of Aldermen meeting, and they say they aren’t convinced. They say it seems a bit too cozy to have the city attorney, who sits right across the hall from the mayor, do this investigation.

“It just seems rather biased to me, says Sue.

“That’s the problem with the whole process,” adds Kevin. “Whatever comes out of this, I’m not really sure it’s worth listening to.”

"Whatever comes out of this, I'm not really sure it's worth listening to." - Kevin Pratico, Rutland resident

But Rutland resident Carol Tashie called that an overly cynical view — one that she says she doesn’t share.

While Tashie says she’s confident City Attorney Charles Romeo did a fair and thorough job on the report, she’s more upset at the time and money spent completing it.

“I think it’s all very foolish,” she says, shaking her head. “We’ve elected the mayor and the people have spoken time after time that the mayor is our executive officer. And he absolutely had the right and the responsibilities to do what’s best for Rutland, and I believe this is best.”

Copies of the report will be available at City Hall, or click here