Union Wants Burlington to Fire Airport Director Gene Richards | Off Message

Union Wants Burlington to Fire Airport Director Gene Richards


  • File: Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
  • Gene Richards
AFSCME members at the Burlington International Airport are calling for director Gene Richards to be fired.

Richards, however, says he has no intention of stepping down before an ongoing human resources investigation into his conduct concludes.

A petition signed by 34 members of AFSCME Local 1343 states that they have "lost all trust, faith, and confidence" in Richards, who has been on paid leave since June 30 over unspecified allegations. Richards runs the airport, and his official title is director of aviation.

"We urgently stress that the following signatures is [sic] a display of solidarity in saying 'enough is enough' and that he be terminated for cause," it reads.

Local 1343 represents most union-eligible Burlington employees, as well as some municipal workers in other towns and cities in Chittenden County. It covers about 40 or so airport positions.

The petition, obtained independently by Seven Days, was sent Sunday to Mayor Miro Weinberger as well as members of the Burlington City Council and the  Burlington Airport Commission.

The petition did not outline specific concerns about Richards' management. Ron Jacobs, president of the local unit, declined comment on Tuesday.

The signatures alone, however, add pressure to an investigation that has stretched for nearly two months. The mayor's office has said only that it was spurred by a "personnel complaint" made to the city's human resources office.
In an email Tuesday, city spokesperson Samantha Sheehan said the petition "is consistent with the airport employee concerns that the human resources investigation has been pursuing since its start."

The investigation is nearly complete, she said, and Weinberger "hopes to have a resolution to share with the public this week."

Reached Tuesday, Richards said he was unaware of the AFSCME petition, nor had he received the results of the city investigation.

"I don't plan on resigning," he said. "I am eager to have dialogue about people's concerns, but I think a fair and transparent process is very important not only to me but to the entire city."

Richards acknowledged that he'd been asked by the mayor's office not to speak publicly during the investigation. But he went on to emphasize that the airport has seen "great results" during his tenure, and that no one raised concerns about his leadership when the council reappointed him to his position in June.

"If there was trouble, it would have been nice to know," he said.

Council President Max Tracy said he has also heard that the investigation was likely to wrap up this week.

Tracy said he doesn't have the "full picture" of what the city has uncovered, but said the union petition "certainly showed that there are real issues going on at the airport that need to be addressed."

Airport Commissioner Helen Riehle, of South Burlington, said she didn't have enough information to know if the petition "has validity."

"I have no idea if it's actually directly related to whatever this personnel issue is, or if it was a separate issue and it seemed like a good time to bring it up," she said. "I have not heard anything about that."

Deputy director of aviation Nic Longo is currently the airport's acting director.