Burlington International Airport aviation director Gene Richards is on administrative leave pending an investigation, Burlington city officials confirmed Tuesday.
The city's human resources office received a complaint against Richards and began investigating "immediately," a city spokesperson said in a brief email response to an inquiry by Seven Days. He was placed on paid leave June 30.
The city would not provide any information about the nature of the investigation until it concludes, said Samantha Sheehan, a spokesperson for Mayor Miro Weinberger. Richards did not return several requests for comment. A bounce-back message from his government email address said he would be out of office without access to phone or email from July 1 to July 6.
City leaders had not told members of the Burlington City Council or the Burlington Airport Commission of the ongoing investigation. Reached Tuesday afternoon, commission chair Jeff Munger said he learned of it by reading Seven Days.
Commissioner Helen Riehle, who represents South Burlington, said she would have expected the city to alert the advisory board if the director was on administrative leave, especially “if it's been a whole week.” Riehle said she “can't even guess” what the complaint might be about.
“Generally speaking, I think he's a very good administrator,” she said.
Burlington City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) said he heard of the complaint on Monday night from someone unconnected to the Weinberger administration. Tracy called the city’s Human Resources director, Kerin Durfee, on Tuesday morning and asked that she inform the rest of the council. Durfee subsequently sent a “very general” email to councilors on Tuesday afternoon, Tracy said.
Tracy criticized Weinberger for not sharing the news with councilors until prompted. He likened the situation to when the mayor chose not to tell councilors in summer 2019 that former police chief Brandon del Pozo had been placed on administrative leave for anonymously trolling a department critic on Twitter. Only his subsequent medical leave was publicized.
“The lesson I took from that was that we need to inform the council, to make sure that we all know,” Tracy said, adding that councilors should know “whenever a department head is placed on administrative leave.”
Sheehan said Tracy's criticism was "way off base." The mayor acted swiftly, she said, and councilors were notified "long before any potential Council action is required, or even anticipated." The administration will brief councilors on the investigation at the next city council meeting in executive session, she said.
Weinberger appointed Richards interim director in 2012. He became the permanent director the following year upon approval by the city council.
In addition to his role at the airport, Richards is a longtime landlord and CEO of Spruce Mortgage.
Deputy director of aviation Nic Longo is serving as acting director of the airport.