ROCKLAND — A letter to the editor penned by outgoing Rockland Mayor Ed Glaser has been challenged by some citizens and councilors who argue that it violated a city ordinance to prevent councilors from influencing elections.

At issue is a letter that Mayor Ed Glaser wrote last week endorsing Councilor Nate Davis for re-election to the City Council. The letter praised all four candidates seeking a pair of Council seats, but ended up endorsing Davis.

“This year, we are fortunate to have four really good city council candidates to choose from, and all of them would serve the city well. But, I do want to make one recommendation,” the letter stated.

“I have served the last three years with Nate Davis, and re-electing him to the city council would be good for Rockland. He is probably the smartest person to serve on the council in many years, and immediately grasps all sides of an issue. He listens better than most, has a vision for a better Rockland (that includes all of us) and at least as importantly he has a good heart. Being a good councilor requires balancing competing interests and ideas, and from my experience, Councilor Davis excels at that.

“Happily this year, we don’t have to pick ‘the least worst’ candidate, we can pick the best — ‘Nate is great,'” Glaser concluded in his letter, which is signed simply Ed Glaser.

But several residents contacted the newspaper and argued that this letter violates a city ordinance.

The ordinance states, “No City Councilor shall participate in any political activity which would be in conflict or incompatible with the performance of his or her official functions and duties for the city. In conjunction therewith: No City Councilor may use his official authority or position for the purpose of influencing or interfering or affecting the results of any election, nor shall he solicit any funds or contributions or accept or receive funds or contributions  from City employees for political purposes. No City Councilor may distribute pamphlets or handbills while he or she is performing their official functions and duties with the City. Nothing herein shall be construed to prohibit any City Councilor from participating in the political process in their capacity as private citizens.”

The ordinance — located in Chapter 2, section 2, subsection 208 under code of ethics — has been in place for more than 40 years.

Mayor Glaser responded when asked by The Courier-Gazette about the issue.

“As an elected official, I am always both a city councilor, and a private citizen. The two are inextricably intertwined. Am I a private citizen when I sign a candidate’s nomination papers or am I a councilor? When I speak to a friend, about a candidate, am I a private citizen or a councilor? If I put a lawn sign up supporting a candidate, am I a private citizen or a councilor? Everyone who knows me, knows that I am a city councilor, so telling someone that I am a city councilor is no great news (and apparently wields no great weight),” Glaser said.

“The point is to prevent a sitting member of the council from interfering with the process of an election, or using their office to affect the outcome of the election. Voicing support for a candidate is a form of free speech as a private citizen that is constitutionally protected, the action of physically interfering in an election is not. If I called the election clerk and asked them to change the outcome of the election, that would be interference,” Glaser said.

“If someone wishes to ask the city attorney to weigh in, I will gladly pass the request on. Additionally, if a city councilor wishes to launch a Board of Ethics review, I will happily submit it to the rest of the city council,” Glaser concluded.

The Board of Ethics is the City Council.

The Courier-Gazette then contacted each current Councilor and the candidates for office to ask if they consider the letter a violation of the ordinance and their thoughts on the issue.

Councilor Davis said it was an interesting question.

“Sitting City Councilors certainly advocate for Council candidates (and referendum questions, including those regarding bonds) via signs, signatures, social media, and other means. I suppose the central question here is whether or not Ed ‘use[d] his official authority or position for the purposes of influencing or interfering with or affecting the results of any election.’ My interpretation of his letter is that he was not using his official authority or position. That said, I recognize that I’m not a disinterested observer in this,” Davis said.

Davis said he asked the City Attorney’s opinion in 2021 about Councilors’ ability to advocate for local referendum questions including sending a letter to The Courier-Gazette. He said she wrote, “The Code provision is intended to prohibit corruption in elections, not giving your opinion as to a question that is posed to the voters.”

Councilor Nicole Kalloch said she believes the matter is clear.

“If you read the city’s code it is clear that he violated it and I’m not surprised with the amount of controversies in his tenure with the city,” Kalloch said.

Candidate Penny York said as a candidate for Council, she does not feel it is appropriate for her to comment on the interpretation of current Councilors on City Charter and Code.

“However, I believe the charter should be a living document and this shines a light on the need to clarify Chapter 2, and ensure policies continue to match the risk appetite of the city and the will of the people of Rockland,” York said.

Candidate Adam Lachman said, “While it is the responsibility of the council to oversee and enforce the city’s code, I think that all city councilors and officials should be held to the standards to which the city’s code is written, and avoid even the appearance of impropriety and undue influence.

Candidate Steven MacDonald said he had not “seen this pulled in years.”

“This may throw the balance of the election way off center. All of the candidates have worked hard to get to this point. I will be at the next council meeting to see if they take any action. I would tell him to step down for the remainder of his time on council or relinquish his seat as Mayor for the rest of his term,” MacDonald said.

Councilors Louise MacLellan-Ruf and Sarah Austin did not respond to the email request for comment that was sent Friday afternoon, Oct. 21.

All but one current City Councilor have lawn signs for the Council race.

Councilors MacLellan-Ruf and Kalloch have signs supporting Lachman. Mayor Glaser has signs for Davis and York. Davis has his own sign on his lawn. Councilor Austin has no political signs on her lawn.

Glaser’s term ends in less than a month. He did not seek re-election to the City Council. He is unopposed for a seat on the Knox County Commission.