New Mexico Firefighter in Hot Water Over Campaign Photo

Today’s burning question: I’m a career firefighter. Two years ago I was elected to the state legislature. I have always been careful not to use my position with the fire department for campaigning or political purposes. Unbeknownst to me folks in my political party used a photo of me in my fire department uniform in campaign literature. Could I be in trouble?

Answer: Trouble comes in many forms for firefighters who are also elected officials. There are ethics and campaign laws that apply to elected officials that must be adhered to. Then there are state and local ethics laws that apply to firefighters (as public employees). Then there are your own fire department’s rules and regulations. But perhaps the worst trouble that an elected official may have to confront is the public reaction to the perception of misconduct… even if you did nothing wrong legally.

Albuquerque Captain Emily Kane, who is also a state representative, is facing scrutiny following reports that a photo of her in uniform has turned up in campaign literature.

While that brush fire burns, Kane is embroiled in a suit with the city over her right to hold office. The Albuquerque city attorney claims that the city charter prohibits employees from simultaneously holding elected office. The case is currently pending before the New Mexico Supreme Court. Kane prevailed at the trial court level on a ruling that the charter provision is unconstitutional.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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