By Alan J. Keays, VTDigger
RUTLAND—Rutland City Fire Chief Michael Jones and the mayor reached an agreement that will see the chief depart his post at the end of this month.
Outgoing city Fire Chief Michael Jones will receive more than $35,000 as part of his severance package negotiated with the city to break his two-year contract early.
In addition, he will be paid $48 for each hour of unused sick time, vacation time or personal time prior to his effective resignation date of June 30. The agreement doesn’t specify how much unused time off that is. Jones will be paid $35,871 in severance benefits under the agreement. According to the city report, the fire chief made about $72,000 a year. Jones’ contract was scheduled to end Nov. 1.
Mayor David Allaire issued a news release Saturday, June 10, stating that he and Jones “executed an employment separation agreement.”
“The Mayor and Chief mutually agreed that the separation would be in the best interests of the Chief, the Fire Department, and all the other parties involved,” Allaire stated Saturday.
The agreement was signed by the mayor and fire chief Friday, June 9.
Jones responded Saturday afternoon to a phone call with a text message that read: “I decline to comment on anything about the fire department or City of Rutland.”
The fire department was a big issue during the mayoral campaign in March in which Allaire ousted former Mayor Christopher Louras from office.
A proposed restructuring plan brought up during a contentious budget process and backed by the chief and then-Mayor Louras drew opposition from the firefighters union, which ultimately endorsed Allaire in the mayoral race. The union also passed a no confidence vote in the fire chief during the budget process.
It appeared the mayor and the fire chief had a strained relationship since Allaire took office in March. Jones has said previously that he and the mayor did not see eye to eye on the future of the fire department.
“It comes down to a fundamental difference on where we see the Fire Department going in the future,” the chief said Thursday. “We can keep it status quo and never really overcome the issues that are present or you can attempt to make the changes.”
Jones, who is retired from the Vermont National Guard, was appointed by Louras to the post of fire chief. Jones had no firefighting experience at the time of his appointment.
Louras at that time highlighted Jones’ strong administrative experience. The goal, Louras said then, would be to use those skills to help develop leadership within the department. Then, when Jones’ two-year contract expired this November, someone from within the department would be ready to become the next fire chief.
That plan “was doomed for failure from the beginning,” Jones has said. “You take somebody from the outside that didn’t come from the fire service and get them to try to get people that are from the fire service, rooted deeply in the place, and say, ‘This guy is going to teach you all about leadership.’ They fought me from the beginning.”
“Leading up to the campaign and leading up to the election, there had been a lot of issues over at the Rutland Fire Department,” Allaire said. “There was a proposal brought forward by the fire chief and the mayor that was not well received by the rank and file of the fire department as well as very big concerns from the Board of Aldermen.”
Allaire said he wanted to “reset things” at the fire department, and said it was “time for new leadership.”
The mayor described the separation agreement as “mutually” reached between the parties.
“I wish him well,” Allaire said of the fire chief. “He served in his capacity the best he could.”
Jones’ last day will be June 30.
The mayor said he intended to form a committee as part of the search for the next chief.
Photo by Erin Mansfield, VTDigger
David Allaire, mayor of Rutland.