BARRE — Mayor Thomas Lauzon remains in information-gathering mode, but city councilors have supported his suggestion they schedule a summit with the owners of local lodging establishments in the wake of a shooting outside one of them late last week.
Startled by reports that one armed man shot and critically injured another in what police have described as an attempted drug-related robbery at the Budget Inn on Friday night, councilors embraced Lauzon’s call for a meeting with all of Barre’s lodging owners.
The discussion, which occurred during the council’s meeting Tuesday night, lasted all of five minutes, and Lauzon did most of the talking. The mayor suggested public safety was the city’s primary interest and said a candid discussion with all of those in the local hospitality industry was in order.
“It’s not my intention to single out anyone, or exclude anyone,” he said. “I’m not making a judgment about anyone, but I am attempting to gather as much information as I can.”
That process began over the weekend when Lauzon submitted a public records request to the state Department of Finance and Management seeking information on any payments the state has made to house people at the Budget Inn and six other Barre establishments over the past four years.
Lauzon told councilors Tuesday that his request has been forwarded to the state Department for Children and Families and he didn’t expect an answer for several days.
If there is a connection between last week’s shooting and the state’s practice of offering housing assistance to those who are homeless, recently released from foster care or under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections, Lauzon stopped well short of saying so. He did use the phrase “best practices” with regard to the operation of lodging establishments several times, but never elaborated and didn’t indicate he had any reason to believe that the owner of the Budget Inn could have done anything to prevent the shooting.
Lauzon did reiterate his desire to invite owners of inns and motels to a meeting after he had assembled information, ranging from state housing assistance payments they’ve received to local code violations for which they’ve been cited.
“I would like to talk about steps we could take moving forward to make sure that owners of lodging establishments are employing best practices,” he said.
Lauzon said the council technically has the authority under state law to license hotels, motels and inns in much the same way it does bars and nightclubs. However, he said, he isn’t prepared to recommend that.
“I don’t know that I’ll go there,” he said with regard to licensing.
Lauzon said he is certain that a conversation is in order to ensure the safety of Barre residents and those who are guests at various establishments and asked the council whether it preferred that discussion to occur in public or private.
It isn’t clear how meeting with innkeepers to discuss “best practices” and public information would justify an executive session under Vermont’s open meetings law, though councilors agreed a closed-door meeting would not be necessary.
“I think it would be fine to be in public,” Lucas Herring said.
“Me too,” said Charlie Dindo, with Anita Chadderton nodding in agreement.
Lauzon said the shooting refocused the council’s attention on an issue it has talked about before, albeit for different reasons.
“We have had discussions about some of the lodging establishments in town, and most of those discussions have been with regard to code violations and the need for compliance,” Lauzon said.
Many of those discussions have involved the Budget Inn, and the North Main Street motel was selected as what city officials described as the test case for a zoning provision aimed at preventing motels from essentially converting rooms into apartments. A Development Review Board decision a year ago in that case sparked a legal appeal that has not yet been resolved.
Last week’s shooting may have permanently paralyzed one man — 30-year-old Justin Roberts — and has another — Marcus A. Stone, 24 — in jail after pleading not guilty to a felony count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. It was the latest incident involving the inn, which is a few hundred feet from the police station.
Roberts remained in critical condition at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington on Wednesday. Stone, who was unable to post bail after his arraignment this week, was being held at the state prison in St. Johnsbury.
According to court records, police responded to a report of gunshots at the motel shortly after 11:30 p.m. Friday and found Roberts lying on the ground and Stone holding a handgun nearby. Roberts, who police said was also armed, had a wound in his back where the bullet exited through his neck.
Stone, who police said was staying at the motel with his girlfriend and her baby, was arrested and charged with the shooting after Roberts allegedly came to his room with a gun and demanded money.
According to court documents, Roberts grabbed cash from the room and fled before being chased and shot by Stone. Police claim at least some of the money in the room was drug-related.
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