RUTLAND — The city’s governing body has rejected a proposal to condemn the riots that took place Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol.
The resolution needed a simple majority to pass, but aldermen deadlocked 4-4 Tuesday night on whether to issue a statement supporting other Vermont elected officials in denouncing the insurrection by rioters who sought to overturn the results of the presidential election, and in placing blame on outgoing President Donald Trump.
The resolution is the latest point of contention for the board, which has recently split on issues such as changing Rutland High School’s mascot and pursuing implicit bias training.
The proposal came about a week and a half after Alderman Paul Clifford posted a meme on Facebook that blamed antifa, a decentralized, left-wing movement that promotes antifacism, for the riots. The conspiracy has been debunked. Clifford has since removed the post, and he apologized in comments to the Rutland Herald.
Alderwoman Melinda Humphrey drew up the resolution. Asked why the board should issue such a statement, Humphrey said it was more appropriate for the board to issue a resolution collectively rather than post individually on social media.
“We recognize the importance of using our platform that we have available to us, as a privilege as members of the Board of Aldermen, and as a board, to make this statement,” she said at the meeting.
Alderman Tom DePoy proposed a strike-all amendment to Humphrey’s resolution; it included a condemnation of Black Lives Matter protests that took place across the country last summer alongside a condemnation of the events at the Capitol.
“When I first read the resolution that was presented by Alderman Humphrey, I just felt that it was extremely inflammatory, extremely controversial, and couldn’t have divided this board and the city more,” DePoy said.
Board members Michael Talbott, Chris Ettori and Lisa Ryan said DePoy’s amendment was disrespectful.
“If we’re unable to distinguish the difference between millions of people peacefully protesting centuries of oppression and systemic racism from a riot by domestic terrorists violently conspiring because they feel like the election was stolen from them, and they’re having their privileges taken away, I can’t legitimize that argument,” Humphrey said.
Alderwoman Sharon Davis said she didn’t think DePoy had intended to be disrespectful in his amendment, and Alderwoman Rebecca Mattis said she wanted to “assume the best intentions in her fellow aldermen.”
Former mayor Chris Louras, who lost a bid for reelection in 2017 after he spearheaded an effort to resettle 100 Syrian refugee families in Rutland, was the only member of the public to speak about the resolution. Louras said DePoy’s amendment was based in racism.
“You folks have a meeting tonight — Tuesday night, Mr. President,” he said. “You didn’t have it Monday night, because it was Martin Luther King Day. And clearly, the lessons of Dr. King were not taken seriously by some members of this board.”
“It would be a sign of weakness and lack of courage by this board to support the amendment,” he later added.
Alderman Sam Gorruso did not vote on either DePoy’s amendment or Humphrey’s resolution. After stating that he had voted for Donald Trump, but was now “very disappointed” in him, Gorruso said he had to walk away from his computer.
“Mr. Chairman. I want you to know that I shut off my camera and volume and went and used the restroom, got the mail, checked on my wife, who’s cooking dinner,” he said. Gorruso, publisher of Rutland-based Sam’s Good News, said he doesn’t trust many media outlets, and didn’t want to condemn the events at the Capitol because he hadn’t seen them firsthand.
DePoy and Clifford voted “yes” for DePoy’s amendment. All other board members voted “no,” save for board members Gerruso, away from his screen, and Bill Gillam, who experienced connectivity problems and was absent from the discussion.
Back on the issue of debating the original resolution, Mattis said she had “thought long and hard” about whether the statement would “promote the interests of Rutland.” She declined to vote for it, pointing to the board’s lack of consensus.
“Despite my support for the statement, my 100% support, I am going to vote no,” she said.
Ettori said that, other than a statement generally condemning violence, a consensus among board members wouldn’t be possible. After experiencing tension in 2016, through the chasm in Rutland during the debate about resettlement, Ettori said all members of the board should “understand the critical importance of feeling safe as we do the business of governance.”
“A resolution of this board, a resolution of this city, should say very clearly that that particular act and alone is not OK,” he said.
Board members Humphrey, Ryan, Ettori and Talbot voted to pass the resolution. Clifford, DePoy, Mattis and Davis voted “no.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated what was required for passage of the resolution condemning the riot at the U.S. Capitol. It needed a simple majority. Also, it misstated the surname of a Rutland alderman. He is Sam Gorruso.
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