A local nonprofit with a mission to spark tech innovation and growth in the Queen City has hired Burlington City Councilor Adam Roof (I-Ward 8) as its project manager.
BTV Ignite announced Roof’s hiring in a press release Wednesday. He started the position on Monday, said Tom Torti, president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, which manages the organization.
Founded in 2014, BTV Ignite is supported by a consortium of public and private partners who promote Burlington’s fiberoptic network as a means of increasing economic development in the city, according to its website. Burlington is one of two dozen member cities with US Ignite, which gives municipalities a platform for projects that enhance health, education, transportation and other services.
“Adam brings a passion and knowledge of the community along with consensus building skills that are hard to replicate,” he said in a press release. “I am thrilled that someone with Adam’s credentials is joining the Chamber team.”
Roof was previously a self-employed communications consultant for businesses in Massachusetts and as far west as San Francisco. He also cofounded Kinzly and Co., a clothing company that makes terry cloth apparel and vends on Church Street.
Roof is BTV Ignite’s only staffer. He reports to Torti and is technically a Chamber employee, but Ignite is also governed by a board of directors comprised of four Burlington city department heads and five representatives from local institutions such as People's United Bank and the University of Vermont. Each of those groups pay Ignite an annual fee to fund its efforts — and, effectively, Roof’s salary.
Roof said he recognizes the conflict and vowed to recuse himself from any city council vote that allocates money to his new employer. He spoke to City Attorney Eileen Blackwood before he even applied for the job to ensure he wasn’t violating any city policies or ethics.
“It’s not a city department, and it’s not fully [supported] by city dollars,” Roof said of BTV Ignite. “I really think it’s a mischaracterization to say I’m paying myself from the city.”
Roof answered similar questions about potential conflicts in 2017 after Seven Days reported that then-city council president Jane Knodell, Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District) and East District Democratic candidate Richard Deane had paid Roof for work on their election campaigns. He said then that the arrangement didn’t violate any city policy on conflicts, and city attorney Blackwood agreed.
Both Roof and Torti said Wednesday that it’s impossible to avoid conflicts in a state as small as Vermont.
“It’s not a goal to eliminate conflicts; the goal is to declare them,” Roof said, adding, “If people have questions, I'm going to answer them. There’s no conflict here that hasn’t been fully addressed and fully transparent.”
Torti said he asked Roof about the potential conflict during his interview — which, Roof said, was conducted by board members who are not city employees. Like Roof, Torti doesn’t see it as an issue, calling the matter “city politics” with which he doesn’t concern himself. He was impressed Roof had vetted the idea with Blackwood before even meeting with Ignite board members.
“It shows an amazing amount of integrity,” Torti said.
Rather, Torti said he is more focused on the results Roof will bring to Ignite; that’s part of why Roof’s new title is project manager instead of executive director. The job listing mentions a minimum salary of $40,000 a year, plus benefits.
“We began to talk about what we needed,” Torti said. “Was it more policy … or could we make a bigger impact if we took a more practical approach to getting things done, things that people could look at and say, ‘Oh, that’s what Ignite does.’”
Torti envisions Roof marketing Burlington as a place to grow tech business. He wants BTV Ignite to solicit firms that can solve real problems with innovative technology: motion-activated street lamps, electric car-charging roadways, street-penetrating radar that locates broken infrastructure — none of these concepts are out of reach for businesses that partner with BTV Ignite’s supporters, Torti suggested.
Roof is excited about the opportunity to solve community problems through storytelling.
“I want to bring more folks to Burlington,” he said, noting the city’s “world-class fiber-optic infrastructure.”
“What I’m focused on is the mission of BTV Ignite and helping the entrepreneurs and underserved populations. For me, everything else is noise,” he said.