MONTPELIER — Rutland City’s mayor says the 100 Syrian refugees coming to the city could be just the first round, even as lawmakers from the county expressed their displeasure for being left out of the loop.
Mayor Chris Louras surprised many people Tuesday when he announced the city would begin taking in refugees in October. On Wednesday, Louras spoke with Rutland County’s senators and representatives about the resettlement plans, and offered an apology of sorts for keeping lawmakers in the dark, while at the same time saying he didn’t regret his actions.
“There had to be conversations for which this many public officials could not be involved, and while I appreciate many of you feeling blindsided — and man, I’d feel blindsided too, if I were you — I’m owning it,” Louras told the dozen or so assembled lawmakers.
“However, sometimes information needs to be controlled during a review process and during a decision-making process,” Louras said. “I do apologize for you feeling blindsided, but if I had to do it again, I’d make the same decision.”
Louras told the lawmakers he expects the city will take in 25 to 30 families, one every other week for a year, beginning in October.
When asked what his greatest concern was regarding the resettlement process, Louras said he worried the city’s capacity to absorb refugees could “dry up” after the first year, preventing Rutland City from taking in additional refugees.
Many of the lawmakers praised Louras for his compassion and for his initiative, while — in the same breath — condemning the secrecy surrounding the process.
“We got our legs kicked out from under us Monday night,” said Rep. Butch Shaw, R-Pittsford, referring to the fact the news of the refugee resettlement leaked on social media before the announcement Tuesday.
Louras said the leak originated with one of the members of the city’s Board of Aldermen. He also said much of the discussion on social media contains “misinformation, disinformation and lack of facts.”
Louras also attempted to dispel a notion circulating on social media that the initiative to take in the refugees was started at the state level, maintaining it was his idea.
Rep. Doug Gage, R-Rutland City, represents the city’s northwest neighborhood, and asked if it is true the refugees would be resettled there. Louras said the refugees would settle wherever the city has housing capacity.
Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, expressed his hope the refugees would not all be settled in the same location, noting the struggles immigrants faced a century ago when they would often be forced to live together, creating isolation from the community at large.
Gage also complained that Louras did not seek public input before deciding to accept the refugees.
“We didn’t hold a vote when the Greeks were coming, when the Italians were coming,” said Louras, himself the grandson of a Greek immigrant who came to Rutland City a century ago.
The most pointed remarks came from Rep. Tom Burditt, R-West Rutland.
“I think you knew there was going to be opposition, but you didn’t have the fortitude to stand in front of the community and trust the people that elected you,” Burditt said.
“Because of your tactics, you have taken what could have been a positive step forward for the Rutland community and ignited the misinformed, the uninformed and the social media experts to rise up in opposition,” Burditt continued. “I believe a little transparency and education would have gone a long way.”