By Patricia Minichiello
Long-awaited answers to questions on refugee resettlement in Rutland came in the form of a letter from the state department this week.
State Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Vt., said the letter came late Wednesday, but it would have been helpful to have these answers before the decision was made to approve Rutland as a site for refugee resettlement.
“They did answer the questions, many of the answers did not provide direct information,” Collamore said Thursday.
Collamore penned a letter to the state department back in August, also signed by Rutland County Sens. Kevin Mullin, R-Vt., and Peg Flory, R-Vt.
Mullin agreed with the poor timing of the answers.
“I wish we had them a few weeks ago,” he said, but he did point out he was grateful to get the answers.
The letter from the Rutland County Senate delegation asked six questions about refugee resettlement in Rutland.
One question: “What, EXACTLY, is the ‘application form’ and how many pages is it?” did not elicit the answer officials were looking for.
“There is no ‘application form’ as such,” the state department letter states. There is however, a list of information and documentation needed for consideration to become a new site.
That information and documentation is not public, the letter states but may be requested via the Department of State FOIA office now that the decision has been made.
For Collamore several of the answers were not enough.
“We asked them to give us a copy of the blank application and that was not forthcoming. Also I think people did feel very upset about not being included in the process,” he said.
Collamore’s letter also asked the question, “What is the definition of LOCAL GOVERNANCE and GOVERNING ENTITY?” He said Thursday the state’s response was vague and opened ended.
“The structure and scope of local governance varies widely in different communities across the country. For example, what is appropriate in a large metropolitan area may not make sense in a more moderately sized city,” said the letter from the state.
Larry Bartlett, director of Refugee Admissions at the state department, wrote the response and included names of other officials who might be helpful in assisting with questions.
“If you would like to know more about what services and benefits are available to refugees currently living in Vermont, I highly recommend contacting the State Refugee Coordinator for Vermont, Denise Lamoureux. She can be reached at either Denise.Lamoureux@vermont.gov or 802-241-0429,” Bartlett wrote.
Despite finding out about the refugee resettlement announcement on Facebook and acknowledging that Mayor Christopher Louras operated in secrecy, Collamore said he can see both sides of the debate and ultimately he can see the community moving forward and welcoming the refugees.
But one thing is for certain going forward, Collamore said, everyone must continue to ask questions.
“Just because someone has a legitimate question about something, does not mean they should be labeled the way some folks were — throwing words around like racist,” he said.
“We try to take a very thoughtful, middle of the road course and say look we represent both sides and here are some legitimate questions.”
Patricia Minichiello is a freelance reporter and editor of vtpresspass.com. You can reach her at email@example.com.