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In Vermont Town, Refugee Resettlement Debate Costs Mayor His Job


Resettling refugees has proven to be a divisive subject across the country, including in Rutland, Vt. It's a city of 16,000 which this year became home to a handful of Syrian refugees. And as Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck reports, the refugee question may have just cost the mayor his job.

NINA KECK, BYLINE: Last April, Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras surprised many when he announced that he wanted Rutland to become Vermont's newest refugee resettlement community. It was the right thing to do, said Louras, who believed welcoming Syrian families would provide much needed youth and diversity to Rutland.

But many locals weren't convinced. Believing the mayor negotiated the plan in secret without voter input, many pledged to oust Louras in the next election. That election came yesterday, and challenger David Allaire's message of trust and transparency resonated. A longtime member of the city's Board of Aldermen, he turned anger over resettlement into a stunning political upset.

DAVID ALLAIRE: I have no issues with refugees themselves. What I have an issue is - is with the process and with the refugee resettlement organization and their lack of information and transparency right up to this very moment.

KECK: Allaire says that if resettlement is to go forward, it will have to be done in a different manner. He didn't elaborate, and to be clear, city officials don't have much of a say in refugee resettlement, an issue handled at the federal level. At the polls Tuesday, Jillian Kellogg cited refugees as one of the deciding factors in her vote for Allaire.

JILLIAN KELLOGG: It's not that refugees shouldn't have somewhere place - someplace safe to go if they need to get away from a bad situation, but they need to be properly vetted in order for them to come and for us to open up our city to them.

KECK: The current vetting process is intensive and typically takes about two years. President Trump signed an executive order promising even more stringent vetting. Outgoing Mayor Christopher Louras says he'd hoped the election would be about things like repairing the city's aging infrastructure or figuring out how best to attract jobs, things city leaders can really have a hand in. But he says Rutland is a microcosm of a broader dialogue that's going on about refugees and immigrants, and he has no regrets about his stance.

CHRISTOPHER LOURAS: If refugee resettlement cost me my job, so be it. I'm proud of that. If that's what cost me my job - bringing those nine people here, bringing those five children here to rebuild their lives - good. That's fine.

KECK: Rutland was supposed to take in 100 Syrian refugees this year. Only two families have arrived, and whether more will come is unclear. For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina has been reporting for VPR since 1996, primarily focusing on the Rutland area. An experienced journalist, Nina covered international and national news for seven years with the Voice of America, working in Washington, D.C., and Germany. While in Germany, she also worked as a stringer for Marketplace. Nina has been honored with two national Edward R. Murrow Awards: In 2006, she won for her investigative reporting on VPR and in 2009 she won for her use of sound. She began her career at Wisconsin Public Radio.

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