Burlington City Council to hold termination hearing for airport director

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 10:25 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 4:44 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The City Council could decide Thursday night whether Gene Richards will keep his job as director of the Burlington International Airport.

The City Council will convene a termination hearing regarding Richards and his conduct as airport director.

Richards is accused of creating a hostile work environment and verbally abusing airport employees. An independent investigation found complaints from multiple people.

Mayor Miro Weinberger called the behavior unacceptable and asked Richards to resign. When Richards refused, the mayor called for a termination hearing.

In recent memory, city officials say there has not been a termination hearing, so they are breaking new ground. The city charter says it takes a two-thirds vote of the City Council to fire a department head.

“We’re going to take into account any motions made by either side to change the process and give them a fair hearing. I think in either case, each side will have an opportunity to make their case to the council and I would hope that the council will hear both sides and make their determination accordingly,” said Max Tracy, P-Burlington City Council president.

The process set by the new city attorney, Dan Richardson, is set to have both sides giving their evidence for 15 minutes before the City Council in this quasi-judicial hearing.

Richards’ lawyer, Rich Cassidy, says that’s not nearly enough time to lay out their case and defend against each of the specific complaints.

“I don’t see how the City Council can understand the nuances of this case in 15 minutes or half an hour or an hour, and I think what’s happening is unfair and I think that the mayor, if he’s the man that I think he is, will wake up one day and regret this,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy says he will be asking the council to postpone the hearing to give him more time to prepare and to set new rules that allow for a longer hearing and questioning of witnesses.

City attorney Richardson stresses the termination hearing is not meant to look like a trial. Instead, he says the city charter language points to a more subjective and political process, meaning councilors are deciding whether they believe Richards can effectively serve the community as they choose to define it.

“I think the desire for the City Council is to make sure there is some public input and sense of fairness and the mayor is clear as to why he is seeking to remove and to give Mr. Richards an opportunity, not an endless opportunity but a limited opportunity to present his perspective,” Richardson said.

So the City Council will first decide whether they want to stick with the process outlined by the city attorney, and if so, then allow both sides to present their cases.

We will let you know on the Channel 3 News at 11 p.m. what happened.

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