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Beleaguered airport director to face City Council next week to keep job

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 6:36 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 3, 2021 at 5:35 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger says he is sticking with plans to get rid of Burlington Airport Director Gene Richards following allegations he was hostile to subordinates.

“I’ve lost confidence in his ability to lead that entity. I would not put him back in a position where he has supervisory authority over employees there under any circumstances,” said Weinberger, D-Burlington.

The mayor says he’s confident the City Council will follow his recommendation and fire Richards at a termination hearing on Sept. 9 after Richards refused to resign.

The airport director was placed on leave at the end of June following a complaint to human resources and a city investigation. The mayor says Richards yelled and swore at airport employees, creating a hostile work environment. He’s now suspended without pay.

“The denigrating language he used to employees, humiliating employees in front of peers -- that is unacceptable behavior from my perspective for a department head, that is not. I expect people who work for me to achieve a lot. I know Gene is a hard-charging department head and pushed people hard. You can do that while still maintaining professionalism and treating people right,” Weinberger said.

Richards continues to maintain that his actions are not fireable offenses. He admits he “runs a tight ship” and “holds employees accountable when they need to be.” He also takes credit for helping turn the airport’s finances around, bringing in new flights, and grants to improve the airport. He says the mayor is not giving him due process and continues to withhold information, including the full report from the investigator.

“I am willing to own my mistakes and apologize for them to those I have offended. Mayor Weinberger has engaged in precisely the kind of behavior that he accuses me of, but at an abusive level. He has tried to bully me into walking away from a job that I love. He will not be successful in obtaining my resignation. I will stand before the City Council and ask that they refuse to allow Mayor Weinberger to become the dictator of Burlington,” Richards said in a statement.

The mayor’s office says Richards will the full report from the investigator before his hearing.

The union representing airport employees supports the mayor’s move, but at least one former employee has written to the City Council urging them not to terminate Richards.

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