By Emma Cotton/VTDigger
RUTLAND — An unprecedented tie for a seat on the Rutland Board of Alderman has been resolved between the two candidates.
Thomas Franco got seat on the board after John Atwood, who was making his fourth run for the board, announced that he’d remove himself from the race. Each received 1,122 votes in the election on Town Meeting Day.
The candidates ran on similar platforms, both backed by a grassroots political group called Rutland Forward. Atwood said he thinks Franco can carry out a common vision for the position.
City Clerk Henry Heck said that, in his 13 years on the job, he’s never seen a tie for an elected position. The candidates had a few options for settling the tie, including a recount. In that case, one of the candidates would have needed to file a request within five days of the election. If the clerk didn’t hear from the candidates in that time frame, he would have started organizing a runoff.
The second option, which they took, was for one candidate to withdraw.
“It was a pretty easy decision,” Atwood said. “Thomas is very energetic and has a lot of good ideas, and he’s ready to hit the ground running.”
Atwood noted that he’s on the board of the MINT, a makerspace in Rutland, and he volunteers in a few other capacities, so he will still have a few ways to be involved in the city.
“It just seemed like the best decision for Rutland to let Thomas take that seat,” he said.
Franco grew up in West Texas and recently moved to Vermont, his partner’s home state. He plans to prioritize economic recovery and development in the city, along with measures that will help current and future residents feel welcome.
“I’m just so excited,” he said. “We have so much work to do to start moving the needle in Rutland. Already, I’ve had a lot of folks reaching out, and it’s clear that we are going to get to work very quickly.”
Franco was formerly a sixth-grade math teacher, and now works for Rural Innovation Strategies, a Hartland-based company that’s working to expand broadband.
High on his list, he said, is creating an equity committee, along with implementing implicit bias training for city employees.
Franco will be the board’s youngest current member, at 25, and is also the first openly gay member of the Rutland Board of Alderman. He’s the second person of color to serve on the board, following Lisa Ryan, who was elected in 2017, but decided not to run for another term this year after facing harassment.
“Going into this, I was certainly aware of a lot of the issues that leaders of color in Vermont and in our area have faced,” he said. “It was certainly on my radar. But I have a really solid network that has constantly made sure that I feel supported.”
Franco said he thinks Rutland has reached a turning point, characterized by voters deciding to elect four candidates to the board of aldermen who were backed by the Rutland Forward group. All of the candidates are ready to make big changes, Franco said, and he hopes that message will encourage city residents.
“I think a lot of people hear the word ‘change,’ and it sounds scary,” he said. “But I really want to drive home the point that what is coming is nothing to fear. New people and new ideas, diversity in the area, growth of our population are all good things.”