Rutland Fire Department Violated City Charter With Mayoral Endorsement

Mar 17, 2017

Kam Johnston, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in Rutland, believes David Allaire took advantage of a violation of the city's charter to win the election. And Johnston worries that that the alleged breach could create an ongoing conflict of interest. 

Many political observers in Rutland say the endorsement of Rutland City Firefighters was key in helping David Allaire win the mayoral race.

Off-duty fire fighters held signs supporting Allaire at polling places and stood with him during honk-and-wave sessions in the days leading up to the vote.

But Kam Johnston says that’s in clear violation of the city’s charter, which states:

§ 9-23.10. Political activity

No member of the Fire Department of the City of Rutland shall act as an executive committeeman, attend any political convention as a delegate, participate in any manner whatever in any canvass in behalf of or against any candidate for any City, county, State, or national office, hold tickets or canvass votes at any election, or take any part whatever in political matters other than to vote, nor be a candidate for any public office.

And Johnston says the fact that Allaire held a private meeting with firefighters to win their endorsement before the election runs contrary to Allaire’s pledge to return trust and transparency to the mayor’s office.

“And the reason I think it’s so important,” says Johnston, “is because it creates an absolute conflict of interest in that they’re negotiating with the mayor over contracts. So that they have a huge financial interest in making sure that they have, potentially, participants on the other side that are more favorable to their positions.”

"[I]t creates an absolute conflict of interest in that they're negotiating with the mayor over contracts ... They have a huge financial interest in making sure that they have, potentially, participants on the other side that are more favorable to their positions." — Kam Johnston

David Allaire says he was unaware of the charter rules, and says firefighters took it upon themselves to support his campaign.

“And as far as any secret meeting there was nothing secret about it,” says Allaire. “The union asked for candidates to come up and have a discussion with them about their plans for the future of the city of Rutland. And that was really all of it.”

Seth Bride has been a firefighter in Rutland for 10 years and is president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 2323 chapter.

Bride admits firefighters were not aware of the charter language when they were out campaigning for Allaire, and says they stopped when the city clerk informed them of the rules — rules he feels should be changed.

“We do feel that that was a rather dated charter piece once we found out about it,” says Bride. “We believe it violates our members’ constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection.”

"We do feel that that was a rather dated charter piece once we found out about it. We believe it violates our members' constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection." — Seth Bride, president, International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 2323

He says the police and fire departments are the only departments in the city that have this restriction. “And we are also the only fire department in the state of Vermont that has that restriction.”

But according to the Vermont Secretary of State's office, Burlington's city charter has similar provisions for its fire and police departments.

Bride says firefighters invited all four mayoral candidates to meet with them, but only Allaire and Michael Coppinger responded. 

Kam Johnston disputes that, and says he was not invited to any talks with firefighters during this most recent mayoral campaign. 

Johnston also finds it strange that Allaire, who served on the city’s board of aldermen for 19 years, much of that time as president, was unfamiliar with the wording of the city charter.