The attorney representing embattled Burlington aviation director Gene Richards has asked the city to postpone his client's termination hearing this week, saying the process is unfair and biased. City officials, however, say the hearing will proceed as scheduled on Thursday, September 9.
In a letter to city attorneys on Monday, Rich Cassidy argued that Mayor Miro Weinberger is “hiding exculpatory material” because Richards has not received important documents ahead of the hearing. He also called the meeting’s format, which allots each side 15 minutes to make their case, a “farce.” City councilors can ask follow-up questions, but neither the mayor nor Richards can cross-examine witnesses, according to a letter sent to Richards late last week.
“In more than forty years of law practice, I have never been personally involved in any proceeding that more resembles a show trial than the process that your letter purports to establish,” Cassidy wrote. “In the circumstances, it would be extraordinarily unfair to proceed.”
The hearing is the culmination of a two-month investigation into Richards’ mistreatment of workers at the Burlington International Airport, which Richards has run since 2012. A summary report released by the city in late August concluded that Richards regularly berated employees and generally created a toxic workplace, allegations Richards has denied. When Richards refused to resign, Weinberger initiated the termination hearing — the first in city history. According to rules established in the city charter, it will take a two-thirds vote — at least eight councilors — to fire or retain Richards.
Samantha Sheehan, the mayor’s spokesperson, said the hearing is on for Thursday, though city councilors could theoretically decide to postpone it when they meet that day.
Cassidy says Richards won't have enough time to examine the evidence against him before Thursday. The attorney has filed public records requests with the city, including for Richards’ personnel file, 1,500 pages of documents reviewed by the city’s hired investigator and a copy of a petition signed by unionized airport workers calling for Richards’ dismissal. Cassidy has also requested a slew of labor-related paperwork, such as unemployment claims, as well as every grievance filed with any city department dating back to fiscal year 2011, according to correspondence provided to Seven Days.
The city responded that it will provide documents “on a rolling basis up to and through September 13” — which is “conveniently” after Richards’ hearing, Cassidy wrote.
Cassidy also questions why the city redacted witness names from the final version of the investigative report; the summary memo, which was provided to the media and Richards' team in late August, didn't include any redactions. Cassidy's letter argues that Richards should be able to question his accusers in a hearing “of up to 4 hours.”
“That this hearing would be done in such summary fashion implies, among other inappropriate shortcuts, that the City Council will be expected to rely on the Investigator’s finding that Gene Richards [sic] denial of some allegations is ‘not credible,’” he wrote. “How can this judgment call about a subjective matter possibly be tested without an evidentiary hearing?”
In an emailed statement Monday, assistant city attorney Justin St. James refuted Cassidy’s claims that the city is withholding evidence.
"The City firmly denies any allegation that it is protecting exculpatory material. Mr. Richards was part and party to each instance of behavior contained in the investigators memo and could provide materials to support his defense," he wrote, adding that the city made the investigative report available "well in advance of the September 9th hearing."
St. James called Cassidy’s records requests “extensive” and wrote that the city would be able to deliver records sooner had his requests “adhered to the scope of this hearing.” He also defended the city’s decision to redact witnesses’ names to protect them from “harassment or public scrutiny” and said that while the incoming city attorney, Dan Richardson, has not recommended allowing cross-examination, “ultimately, the procedure of the hearing will be determined by the City Council on September 9th.”
City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2), who will preside over the hearing, did not immediately return a request for comment. Other city officials were unavailable due to the state holiday.