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Candidate's performance as fire chief under scrutiny in Bluffdale mayor's race

A campaign sign for Bluffdale mayoral candidate John Roberts. (Photo: Daniel Woodruff/KUTV)

Controversy is brewing in the race for Bluffdale mayor – the first contested mayoral election in that city in 12 years.

In the spotlight is the controversial departure last year of one of the candidates from a longtime city post.

John Roberts served as fire chief in Bluffdale for about 15 years. He served as a part-time firefighter for many years before that. But Roberts resigned in April 2020, just before a formal investigation was about to launch into his leadership of the fire department.

Bluffdale’s city manager started getting complaints about Roberts in March 2020. Through a public records request, 2News obtained those complaints which were made anonymously by three firefighters.

The firefighters claimed Roberts was often absent, and that he sometimes padded the schedule and paid firefighters for working when they really were not, leading to the stations being short-staffed.

They also complained of safety concerns with station facilities and equipment. One firefighter said those issues “place both our firefighters and the public at risk.”

The city told 2News it launched a preliminary investigation which found evidence of potential wrongdoing. The city said it gave Roberts a chance to resign – which he did on April 8, 2020 – before a full investigation was set to move forward.

Roberts told 2News he was unavailable for an interview Wednesday, but he referred to a statement he posted earlier this week on Facebook.

In that statement, Roberts said the city didn’t pay for enough staffing at the fire stations, especially on holidays, and that keeping those stations fully staffed was difficult.

“I made sure that our fire stations were appropriately staffed during the holiday seasons while each of you were likely spending quality time with your families in your homes,” Roberts wrote. “I have always sought to provide our residents with peace of mind and the comfort knowing that should the need arise, our first responders were ready and able to come to their aid.”

In the statement, Roberts did not provide any specifics about how he maintained staffing levels at the stations, only that the city “disagreed” with the way he did it. He said he and the city both “felt it was in their respective best interests to part ways.”

Natalie Hall, who is running against Roberts in the race for Bluffdale mayor, wouldn’t comment on her opponent’s past as fire chief. She told 2News she is “just really working hard to run a positive campaign.”

Hall also works for the city. She’s on unpaid leave from her part-time job in communications and emergency management while she runs for mayor.

Hall has been investigated herself three times over the last year for various allegations. Through a public records request, 2News obtained copies of all three reports. Each investigation turned up nothing.

“Those investigations were done thoroughly, and I appreciate that,” Hall said, “and the investigations showed that they were false accusations.”

Roberts' full statement is below:

I have received questions regarding recent social media posts concerning the circumstances of my departure as Bluffdale’s Fire Chief. Unfortunately, social media does not afford me the ability to take all the time I would like to address each of your questions and concerns. In brief, one of the primary difficulties faced during my tenure as Fire Chief were staffing shortages at the fire stations. It was the intent of our City that only two firemen be staffed at any given time in each fire station. Obviously, that is grossly insufficient to provide proper protection for our residents, especially considering the significant growth we have experienced. In addition, our City refused to provide Holiday pay for our first responders, specifically our firemen, that were asked to work on holidays. The City was simply unwilling to provide adequate funds for the proper staffing of fire stations. As a result, staffing our fire stations, especially on holidays became incredibly difficult.

To ensure the safety of the residents of the City of Bluffdale, I made sure that our fire stations were appropriately staffed during the holiday seasons while each of you were likely spending quality time with your families in your homes. I have always sought to provide our residents with peace of mind and the comfort knowing that should the need arise, our first responders were ready and able to come to their aid. Despite my attempts to properly staff the fire stations and protect City residents, certain allegations were made to the City from anonymous e-mail addresses claiming, in part, that my efforts to staff the fire stations were improper. While I disagreed with the City’s treatment of our first responders, and the City disagreed with the manner in which I ensured the adequate staffing of our fire stations, both parties felt it was in their respective best interests to part ways. Despite what the misinformed social media posts would indicate, there was no basis for criminal charges, nor were criminal charges ever investigated. It was simply a parting of ways, and I continued to remain eligible for rehire by the City of Bluffdale.

The remaining allegations in the recent social media posts are simply false. There is no truth or basis for their claims whatsoever. In reading the various allegations that have been spread on social media platforms, it is surprising how quickly half-truths, false accusations and rumors are spread by people with whom I have never interacted and/or by people who have no knowledge of the events on which they seek to pass judgment. Throughout the entirety of the time frame during which the COVID pandemic and my time as Fire Chief overlapped, our City was fully prepared for the COVID pandemic. We had sufficient masks, protective equipment and sanitizing materials in place to fully protect the City to the extent we were able. Any individual claiming anything to the contrary is incredibly misinformed. As Fire Chief, I ensured that our City retained sufficient protective equipment to provide for our residents’ safety.

I find it concerning and saddening how quickly various candidates and their supporters have jumped into the deep end of the cesspool that is American politics. The information that has been manipulated for the benefit of my opponent and shared on social media, was explicitly made confidential by the City of Bluffdale, specifically by its City Manager. Despite our City’s promises to maintain that information as confidential, members of the city staff and/or city council caused for the information to be disseminated to the general public in an attempt to benefit the campaign of my opponent, an opponent that is a colleague of those individuals with direct access to the information that they promised to keep confidential. It is unfortunate to see that our City and certain candidates have decided that ethical, moral and legal obligations are easily cast aside in favor of collusion and conflict to promote their own self-interests.

Despite the negative treatment I have received as a result of broken promises by the City of Bluffdale and as a result of misinformed social media posts, my commitment to the betterment of the City and its residents is unwavering. I would like to thank all those who continue to show me support. The need for a return to our core values, to protecting our residents and the lifestyle that we collectively enjoy in this City has never been greater. For 47 years I have built relationships in Bluffdale and surrounding cities, through continuous and regular interaction with city administrations and various emergency response departments throughout the State. In that time, I have continuously sought to protect the residents of this City and have done so even at my own expense and detriment. My actions have demonstrated my willingness to put the residents of this City and their needs first. This City has been the focus of my life’s work and involvement and I simply seek to continue those efforts in the role of Mayor.