City officials say they will not schedule a meeting on bias training, but they are not ignoring the issue.
The Board of Aldermen voted in August to refer the issue of bias training for city officials to the General Committee. That committee’s chairman, Alderman Scott Tommola, said Monday during the board’s regular meeting that he had decided against holding a meeting on the subject.
“I have no interest in running a circus-like meeting with personal agendas and sideshows,” Tommola said. “It’s become abundantly clear to me that no city money will be made available for bias training.”
Tommola said there was the possibility of a qualified organization doing such a training free of charge. If one is found, he said, willing officials will simply schedule the training. Other board members were silent during that portion of the meeting Monday.
The board’s rules of order, which are a separate document from the city’s charter and ordinances, put the scheduling of committee meetings at the discretion of the committee chairmen. Referrals from the board are considered void if a meeting is not held within two years.
Meetings can be compelled by the board president or a two-thirds vote of the board. The board president, Alderwoman Sharon Davis, said Tuesday she cannot remember either ever happening. She also said she was not aware of an instance of a committee chairman declaring they would not hold a meeting on a referral, though there have been several occasions where a referral was made but, for whatever reason, no meeting was ever held.
Racial issues flared up for the board in July when several people — including some board members — objected to a Facebook post by Alderman Paul Clifford. Clifford removed the post and apologized. The August vote was in response to several people approaching the board as a result of alleged racially motivated mass shootings in Ohio and Texas.
Davis said she was under the impression that some of the people requesting the city conduct bias training had offered to find funding for it.
“That didn’t happen,” she said.
Mayor David Allaire said Tuesday he had no plans to put money for bias training into the budget. His predecessor, Mayor Christopher Louras, made bias training mandatory for department heads and employees likely to have contact with the public. Allaire said he has discontinued that practice, in part because he believes most of the relevant employees have already had the training.
“I don’t have a desire to make it mandatory,” he said. “If there was someone who wanted it, they could.”
Davis said she had spoken with Tommola on the subject and there had been “a little back and forth” with other aldermen. She also said Alderman Matt Whitcomb offered to reach out to the organization that did Rutland Regional Medical Center’s bias training.
Davis said she did not see a need for those various conversations to have taken place in the context of an official, public meeting.
“Not necessarily,” she said. “It’s not that there are six aldermen talking to people all at the same time. It’s just, how do we get this done? ... What does the training look like? Is it a one-day event? Or is it an all-day event? ... We’re going to be in budget meetings through December. Those are the hurdles we’re faced with.
Also, Davis stressed that the board was taking the issue seriously.
“It’s not being buried — as it could be,” she said. “These are just all the particulars that we have to work out. ... Is bias training a good thing, a bad thing? There’s nothing wrong with it. If it helps us look at biases and serve the city better, fine. It just wasn’t presented in the best light.”
Heather Juliussen-Stevenson, who was part of the group that advocated for the training in August and who pressed the board on the subject earlier this month, said Tuesday she found the comments confusing and disappointing.
“We want this to be institutionalized so it’s available for everybody,” she said. “It’s my understanding that there are options that are free, but they need to pursue it.”
Allaire suggested that people with concerns about racial issues in Rutland and who would like to see more leadership on them from city government come in and discuss it with him “face to face.”