By Julia Purdy
Six of the seven mayoral candidates for Rutland city went before the public Feb. 10 in a virtual forum led by the Rutland Young Professionals and livestreamed on Facebook. Kimberly Rupe, president of the RYP board, explained that signups for Zoom had exceeded the permissible number so the forum was moved to Facebook. Board member Vanessa Robertson facilitated the forum.
Candidates began with brief introductions, then answered seven questions drawn from public submissions, and concluded with summaries of their candidacies.
Mayor David Allaire led off, introducing himself as a Rutland native who attended local schools and worked in sales all his life. He asserted that post-Covid challenges include reenergizing downtown and housing with the help of private enterprise.
Chris Ettori, formerly an alderman, stated that Rutland is at an “inflection point.” He wants to see an “entrepreneurial ecosystem” for downtown, increased home ownership and market-rate rental housing stock, an expanded workforce, continued action against addiction, and town meeting type forums to “work through divisions instead of letting them define us.”
Sam Garruso, publisher of Sam’s Good News, said, “Government is a people business.” He disagrees with the escalating city budget, saying “Who’s Number One? The taxpayer.”
Kam Johnston, who is running for multiple positions, called for an end of city hall “stonewalling” and a focus on transparency.
Kathleen Krevetski, a city activist, founding member of Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFFC) and retired RN, would have Rutland become “the heart of Vermont agriculture,” saying a “food economy” will create prosperity for the region and also provide job and educational alternatives for youth that lead away from addiction.
Matthew Godnick Seager introduced himself as an “educator, small business owner, political advisor, ice hockey player and a proud Rutlander.” To him, the proper role of mayor is to use advocacy and the “tremendous” influence of the office to retain and support quality jobs like GE Aerospace and other manufacturing and trade industries. He wants to see more vocational programs that lead to well-paying jobs without requiring a four-year degree. The drug epidemic hampers this effort, he said. He supports community policing and wants “more teeth” in weak state laws to deal with out-of-state drug dealers. “You are welcome here but not if you are going to poison us.”
Question 1: What are your plans for growth and revitalization of Downtown? Do you have a plan to fill empty retail spaces?
Ettori: Growth should happen from within versus recruiting from outside. “My family started their own businesses. It is how Rutlanders do.” We must support our local entrepreneurs.
Gorruso: Meet the building owners and find out their realistic views about renting, putting tenants in their building. There have to be some incentives.
Johnston: Burlington’s Church Street is a model.
Krevetsky: “What works downtown is the restaurants.” Get Rutland certified as a trail town by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to bring campers and hikers downtown.
Seager: “The biggest issue is the matter of disposable income.” Good jobs in the trades lead to more property getting onto the Grand List, that money can support downtown stores, and “we retain our own people.”
Allaire: “Covid put everything at a stop. We need investors and city leaders to lead the charge.”
Question 2: What are we going to do from an economic perspective to keep our young population from leaving the state in search of better education and career opportunities?
Gorruso: “That’s a good question. … Years ago we had a big span of jobs, $4 per hour for high school kids to $30-$40 per hour for upper scale jobs. … That’s the whole picture.”
Johnston: “The mayor can’t accomplish anything alone. … There needs to be much more interaction.”
Krevetsky: “Preventatively,” education costs too much … Stop spending “hundreds of thousand of dollars” to bring people in and help the families who are already here.
Seager: “Instead of recruiting out, we need to focus on retaining Rutlanders. The key is to build those trades.”
Allaire: The young want to see the world. Rutland’s “strong points” are like its caring community and the environment that can be built upon to bring people back.
Ettori: Consult the data gathered by the Vermont Youth Project every year to see what kids are looking for, and make sure they know what we have here.
Question 3: What is your plan to deal with the aging infrastructure, in particular the aging water and sewer system?
Johnston: “We can’t change things overnight.” Prioritize for water. “Unpave” some streets. “We’re basically tapped out.”
Krevetsky: Get the fluoride out of the pipes. It corrodes them.
Seager: Separate the stormwater. Grow the economic base by growing the city. “We can’t spend money we don’t have.”
Allaire: Carry on the water and sewer infrastructure investments and finish working on sidewalks and potholes. “It’s the first thing people see when they come here, it looks like it’s neglected.”
Ettori: The city 100-year plan is the right strategy.
Gorruso: The streets and sidewalks used to be “wonderful.” I would sit down with the right people and have them help me.
Question 4: Strategic plans for the region have been in the works for years. There is never a next-step, action items list. How do the candidates propose to plan the work and tell us what is happening?
Krevetsky: Transparency is a must, “bring the experts and community together, and then you design a plan.”
Seager: I agree, it is key to build consensus before moving forward.
Allaire: Find out what the community needs and wants. Then implement the plan. “We talk a lot, put a plan in place, then it doesn’t get followed through.”
Ettori: “This is one of my pet peeves.” Implementation is one thing; communicating to the public is just as important through community meetings and a “better, functional” website… Timelines should be set.
Gorruso: The Regional Ambulance board comprised of 13 Rutland County towns is a good example of “a collective body working together. There’s your model.”
Johnston: Ideas and funding proposals lack “clearcut information.” The annual report should contain “relevant and robust information. Right now we have no accountability at all.”
Question 5: Can you state your level of support for the Rutland Free Library and the services the library offers? Also, does your support change depending on the future location of the library?
[Editor’s note: the current library building at 10 Court St. is city property; plans are underway for the library to move 1.8 miles away to the former CSJ library to provide more space/functionality and save city taxpayers an estimated $750,000 if bonded to renovate the current building.]
Seager: Supports the library but wants it to stay downtown until questions are resolved. [The CSJ space] is small, it was built as a basketball gym and may have trouble accommodating the residents of senior housing and the general public at the same time.
Allaire: The library is a “linchpin” for the community and will continue to be. “I will support them wherever they end up.”
Ettori: “I am absolutely supportive … This is a hard one.” A library downtown provides many things: computers, “a warm place in the winter, a cool place in the summer,” that will have to be replaced somehow.
Gorruso: “I respect Randal Smathers and his board but I don’t like the idea.” It is much more cost-effective to repair the present building than to buy the CSJ building. “It will be a great loss…”
Johnston: Will the library “still be committed to the city” if it relocates? Could Covid money come into play here? “This is where strategic planning should have been five years ago.”
Krevetsky: What does the library need to change in the original building? The city should be fixing it, not the library.
Question 6: What do you plan to do to support Castleton University and CCV with plans of a merger with Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College looming?
[Editor’s note: A plan was approved Feb. 22 by the Vermont State Colleges trustees to merge Castleton University, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College. Under the recommendations, Community College of Vermont would remain separate. See story, page 1.]
Allaire: “I would like Castleton to retain its identity.” The mayor of the city of Rutland should be involved in any discussion around a joint venture.
Ettori: “The mayor should advocate for the best interests of the city. Castleton is a big part of that … An example is the downtown dorm.”
Gorruso: “I’m not familiar with that.”
Johnston: “It’s tilting at windmills.” Castleton may not survive by itself “considering how badly underfinanced the entire process is.”
Krevetsky: Castleton University is in a position to establish a science of infectious diseases center. Its nursing graduates supply the area’s needs.
Seager: “Castleton enriches our community.” Would a merger bring more students here?
Question 7: How do the candidates feel about refugee resettlement and how it will play a role in the future of our community’s growth given that Pres. Biden is increasing the number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. and that Rutland is already a designated resettlement site?
Ettori: “I would advocate for it.” It’s not only a “moral obligation” but an economic opportunity. If the community is “receptive they will succeed.”
Gorruso: There used to be “tons of work” in Rutland, when his father immigrated here. “Now we have this on-its-butt town and we want to bring people in that will probably end up on some sort of state or federal aid. I would rather wait until we had something to bring them to.”
Johnston: What happens if the Feds pull the plug again? We must have a fund of at least $1 million, to support assistance for refugees. The veterans and the homeless also need support. “It is absolutely essential that we have input and people should feel engaged.”
Krevetsky: “It’s another divisive issue to add to the list of what divides us as a city. We have to work on it.” The agricultural workforce needs workers.
Seager: “I want to focus on what we can control.” Citing his experience with the “language dynamic” and “cultural immersion” while living abroad, he believes he is “uniquely qualified to guide Rutland through this process.”
Allaire: Resettlement became a contentious issue because “it was done behind closed doors.” With “an open and frank discussion” the city can “go after” the opportunity and move forward.
Gorruso: Rutland needs a businessman for mayor.
Johnston: The issue is not about winning but about ideas.
Krevetsky: A public-private partnership could convert theVFFC site into the food center for the state.
Seager: Rutland is regarded as “stagnant” by many, in need of fresh energy and new ideas.
Allaire: Build on the successes of the past four years.
Ettori: Reach out, make connections, have conversations about what needs to happen.