Rutland city voters face a jam-packed ballot
Voters at Rutland polling places will view a broad range of city government candidates, four for mayor and 17 for alderman, as well as other positions. Running for a sixth two-year term as mayor is incumbent Christopher Louras, competing against both Alderman David Allaire and Downtown Rutland Partnership Executive Director Michael Coppinger, also a former alderman.
Likewise on the mayoral ballot is Kam Johnston, who has additionally submitted petitions for city assessor, Rutland City school board, and City board of aldermen. The only candidate opposing incumbent City Assessor Barry J. Keefe, Johnston ran for alderman, assessor, and mayor in 2015.
Incumbents Thomas Depoy, Christopher J. Ettori, George Gides, Jr., and Melinda Humphrey have petitioned for re-election to their two-year seats. Others hoping to join the board are John Atwood, Daniel Austin, Craig L. Brozefsky, Timothy G. Cook, Gail Johnson, Kam Johnston, Charles Larose Jr., Rebecca Mattis, John Mattison, Lisa Ryan, Robert Schlachter, Matt Whitcomb, and Dan White. Only six of them will be successful. Candidates are elected “at large,” regardless of where they live in the city.
Candidates running for a three-year city school board seat are Michael Blow and Kam Johnston and incumbents Alison Notte and Matthew Olewnik.
Rutland derailment investigated
The four-car derailment in the Rutland yard Jan. 29 is being investigated but is not a cause for alarm, said Vermont Rail System Vice President Selden Houghton. A 20-car string of cars was being switched to another track at the time; one car, containing non-hazardous material, was tilted on its side. No cars were breached, and tracks were cleared by the following evening.
The derailment is not the sign of neglect. Vermont Rail inspects the yard on a weekly basis. The tracks themselves are the property of the state since the early 1960s; Vermont Rail leases them, however, and is responsible for track maintenance and upkeep.
Rutland City Fire Chief Brad LaFaso said the railroads provide information at the start of each calendar year about hazardous materials expected to be moved through the area. That list, however, does not include reportable quantities and may not contain information on occasional transports of special products. Neighboring response teams and the state hazmat team would assist for a large spill or fire.
The Coffee Exchange leaves downtown
The Coffee Exchange has closed its doors at the corner of Center Street and Merchants Row, with plans to reopen, co-located with Dellveneris Bakery, 14 Terrill St., on Feb. 13. Don Fleck owns both businesses.
A sign on the door of the business read: “In anticipation of the arrival of our coffee roaster, The Coffee Exchange is moving. We will be closed from Jan. 29 to Feb. 12. Beginning Feb. 13, come find us at our sister business, Dellveneris Bakery.”
Other than mentioning that the new location would provide better parking, no explanation was giving nor was Mike Coppinger, executive director of the Downtown Rutland Partnership, informed that the coffee shop was moving out.
Budget ballot in compliance
At the Board of Aldermen’s special meeting Jan. 31, the aldermen voted 9-1 on a series of three resolutions that will remedy the seeming gulf of differences between the mayor and aldermen over the 2017 Town Meeting budget ballot. The aldermen decided to pass the fire department budget as presented to them, slightly less than $3.56 million, and also designated up to $200,000 from the unassigned General Fund balance to provide a level of staffing consistent with current practice.
The new budget plus its added boost will enable scheduling around-the-clock coverage of “seven boots” per shift, combining both union firefighters and trained part-timers as well as filling the two new administrative positions of assistant chief and fire prevention officer proposed by Fire Chief Michael Jones.
Whether the conflict underlying the seemingly insurmountable standoff will find peaceful resolution looks doubtful. At issue apparently is the value of “preplanning” vs. rapid response training and experience as well as the fighters’ “lack of confidence” in the fire chief.
In a three-page letter to the Board of Aldermen, Mayor Louras drew on a national model calling for identifying community fire hazards and minimizing risks if a fire were to break out there. “Knowing how a building is constructed, what is inside, and how it is used” would help the fire ground commander “predict the movement, speed and potential intensity of a fire.” The new hires in administration would answer firefighter complaints during the previous year that the department “lacked standards, accountability, and continuity across all shifts,” Louras had explained.
But hiring an assistant chief and a fire prevention officer would come at the expense of three everyday firefighters, a move opposed by the union. The response taken by the aldermen — no firefighter reduction plus the addition of the two coordinating positions — appears to solve the temporary problem, but does not heal the rift between aldermen and mayor, nor between firefighters and their chief.
One of the aldermen’s resolutions describes the plan as “ill-conceived and based on a lack of experience.” Alderman Chris Ettori drafted the wording to give the board something it could support but also to express “disdain for the budget as presented,” he said. The sole dissenting vote was from Alderman Scott Tommola, who explained he would not support a budget calling for the department’s restructuring.
Both sides seem to feel that their opposition failed to compromise. Alderman Ed Larson, who has declined to run for re-election, openly called for Jones’ resignation. The firefighters’ union has indicated it may be willing to endorse a mayoral candidate opposing Louras. Jones, whose appointment expires in November, has announced he has no intention of resigning