Vermont Business Magazine Mayor Miro Weinberger on Friday evening announced his initiation of the process, per City Charter, to terminate the appointment of Burlington International Airport Aviation Director Gene Richards, following findings by an independent investigator that he mistreated City employees and violated city practice regarding the use of City property.
In June 2021, a Federal Aviation Administration employee reported the repeated use of a gasoline facility at the airport by an individual in a private vehicle. Human Resources Director Kerin Durfee and Chief Administrative Officer Katherine Schad immediately initiated an investigation, and through clear documentation, established that Mr. Richards was the subject of the FAA employee’s report. Mayor Weinberger then authorized Director Durfee and CAO Schad to place Mr. Richards on paid administrative leave on June 30, 2021. The investigation quickly confirmed that Mr. Richards had used the gasoline facility to fuel his personal vehicle 59 times in a six-month period, without any documentation of what fuel or travel was for the purpose of work.
During preliminary interviews, airport employees further alleged that Mr. Richards mistreated his colleagues and committed additional instances of misuse of City property. The City contracted an independent investigator to ensure a fair, focused and careful examination of each allegation.
The investigator found that, while not an explicit violation of City policy, Mr. Richards’ use of the gasoline facility without approval violated City practices regarding City property and created an appearance of misuse of City property. More significantly, the report found widespread corroboration by current and former City employees that Mr. Richards violated City policy by regularly engaging in behavior that employees find humiliating and offensive, including yelling, screaming, name-calling, and using profanity.
The investigation found all other allegations of misuse of City resources for personal use by Mr. Richards to be unsubstantiated.
The Mayor has told Mr. Richards he no longer has confidence in his ability to run the airport and asked him to resign. Mr. Richards has declined. Therefore, Mayor Weinberger has suspended Mr. Richards without pay, effective today, and will call a special meeting of the City Council on the evening of September 9 to conduct a termination hearing, per this section of the City Charter:
Chapter 5, § 3-129. Appointing body or person has power to remove:
“Additionally, the City Council may, on the initiative of the Mayor, by an affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of its entire number, remove at any time at its pleasure any City officer or department head it should determine is no longer effectively serving the City, and all City officers and department heads shall take and hold office subject to this authority.”
Mr. Nic Longo will continue to serve as Acting Director of Aviation.
Mayor Weinberger made the following statement:
“The mistreatment of City employees documented in this investigation is unacceptable and Mr. Richards can no longer serve the City in a leadership role, despite his many past accomplishments.
The work of the City is important, hard, and often stressful, and regardless of the challenges we confront I expect all employees to treat their colleagues with respect, fairness, and professionalism while they carry out their duties. I believe that Department Heads, in particular, must lead by example in order for us to achieve our best performance for the people of Burlington. Regrettably, Mr. Richards did not maintain this high standard of service I require from City leadership.
I appreciate the members of the Airport team who raised concerns. I hope my colleagues see in these events the deep commitment of this administration to its employees. I will continue to prioritize our shared values of collaboration, belonging, and respect across all areas of work the City team endeavors to do together.”
Source: Burlington, VT – Office of Mayor Miro Weinberger 8.27.2021
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