by Paul Heintz
To be fair, the Rutland City treasurer never actually makes accusations. She just suggests things. Like, real nutty things.
The latest? That the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank put the city of Rutland on its internal "watch list" in June to screw with Wilton's campaign for state treasurer.
Quite improbably, the bond bank became a bit of a political football earlier this week when Wilton's opponent, State Treasurer Beth Pearce, noted in a debate on WDEV's The Mark Johnson Show that — unbeknownst to Wilton — Rutland had recently earned a place on the bank's "watch list" due to concerns about its unfunded pension liability. Pearce's fellow Democrat, Gov. Peter Shumlin, followed suit Wednesday when asked at a Burlington Free Press debate about the treasurer's race — bashing Wilton for Rutland's inclusion on the list.
That didn't sit well with the Rutland Republican.
"My biggest concern is that two top officials of the state of Vermont used insider information that they had — and they mischaracterized it — and they put it out there for their political gain," Wilton said Thursday during a Statehouse press conference. "And I feel they injured the reputation of not only the city of Rutland, but several other communities in Vermont."
But before the press conference even got started, Wilton's campaign manager, Bradford Broyles, took the criticism a step further while speaking with reporters. Noting that several members of the bank's board of directors have contributed to Pearce's campaign, he suggested the bank put Rutland on the watch list for political reasons — namely to embarrass Wilton.
Asked during her press conference whether she shared that view, Wilton had this to say:
"I announced I was running for state treasurer in the middle of May. And then, come June, at the next Vermont Municipal Bond Bank meeting, there's this action where the board, which includes several supporters of Treasurer Pearce and contributors to her campaign, make a decision to develop this internal list, not shared with the communities affected," she said. "Rutland is cited as being on there for only its pension issue, which I told you about. And I just think the whole thing just seems rather coincidental in some way."
Wilton added that she believed the list was "maybe incomplete or somewhat capricious."
When Seven Days asked if she was alleging that the list was politically motivated, Wilton said, "I don't know that. I don't know that, Paul."
Asked which members of the bank board were colluding with the campaign, she said, "I'm not stating that there's collusion. What I'm saying is the time frame here is what makes me wonder. That's all."
We couldn't quite bring ourselves to drop the point. (Dialogue in italics indicates Seven Days' questions).
I'm confused here. I mean, this seems to be a bit of a pattern of half putting things out here but not actually [making] an accusation here. I understand the point about Pearce, and I guess the governor, using this for political gain. I understand that—
"That's my big concern, Paul," Wilton interjected.
But the other thing you raise which I don't understand is the notion you raised earlier on: that you got into the campaign in May and they created this list — put Rutland on in June. That was a really strong and serious suggestion — I'll use the word suggestion, not allegation here —"
"Makes me wonder," Wilton said.
Are you going to back that up with anything — or is this just another suggestion?
"Why do I have to back it up when that's the time line?" she asked.
What you're saying there is that political donors to Beth Pearce's campaign sat on that board. What that is hinting at is something that would be extremely troubling if it's true. And I'm curious if you have anything to base it on.
"Paul, I'm just pointing out the facts," she said. "There's the time line. Those are the facts."
Asked by another reporter why Rutland was singled out, Wilton said, "Because it was political gain. Political gain. I think Beth Pearce is desperate at this point in time in the campaign, and this was a thing she could pull out and make Rutland look bad."
Vermont Municipal Bond Bank executive director Robert Giroux did not return a call for comment Thursday, but he told Seven Days earlier this week that it's pretty standard for municipalities with management issues, deficits or unfunded pension liabilities to be temporarily placed on the internal watch list, which does not carry any repercussions. Of the 290 municipalities and school districts that have been issued bonds by the bank, 10 are currently on the list.
While Pearce sits on the bank's board, she and its chairman, John Valente of Rutland, both recused themselves from the June vote — she to avoid a political conflict and he because it concerned the town in which he lives. The board's other four voting members are Giroux, Kathryn Boardman, David Kimel and David Coates.
"If she implied that the vote was politically motivated, I find that very offensive," said Kimel, who says he recently gave Pearce's campaign roughly $100. "Quite frankly, I don't remember the exact dates, but I can tell you for sure I didn't even know who Wendy Wilton was or that she was running for office at the time the vote took place."
Coates and his wife have also contributed to Pearce's campaign — at least $2000, in their case — but he took similar umbrage with the notion that his vote was politically motivated.
"Absolutely not. That never came up. We wouldn't and couldn't do that. Period," he said. "From a personal perspective, I am shocked she would say that."
Other highlights from Wilton's Thursday press conference?
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