ARLINGTON — The American Legion Post 69's abrupt closing stems from a temporary charter suspension, according to post leaders and an official with the American Legion Department of Vermont.
But it's unclear why the Legion's Vermont department suspended the local post's charter and when it will be reinstated.
Royal Sheeley, chairman of the Department of Vermont American Legion's Internal Affairs Committee, said his organization launched an investigation into the way the post has been operating, "with respect to their goals, principles and procedures the legion expects posts to operate under."
"As a result, we have suspended their charter so the investigation can be completed," he said.
The charter allows Legion posts around the country to use the "American Legion" name, emblem and badges.
"A suspension does not mean a charter has been permanently revoked," Sheeley said. "It's a temporary action while the investigation takes place."
In an interview with the Banner on Friday, Ronald Wright, a Bennington attorney representing Post 69, declined to discuss specifics of the case or what, if any, legal action its leaders will take.
"Post 69's charter was unjustly suspended without a fair hearing, without specific charges and even without an opportunity to adequately respond," Wright said. "They completely locked up the building that the post owns."
"The suspension is being driven by an officer that made disparaging remarks about post 69 officers and members," he said.
The post's closing has left some community members feeling frustrated.
"We haven't been notified about anything," said Dee Colety, president of the American Legion Auxiliary Post 69. "I'm really saddened by what's going on and disappointed it's taking so long."
The Auxiliary, the Sons of the American Legion and similar organizations are all not-for-profit entities that operate separately from the Legion. But the Auxiliary has used the Post 69 building for years, Colety said. She said she had to cancel the group's biggest fund raiser, among other upcoming events. Among the Auxiliary's many items stored in the hall is its charter, she said, and members were unable to conduct a ceremonial charter draping for two longtime members who recently died.
Some Legion members feel they have nowhere to go without Post 69, Colety said, and rumors and speculation over what happened have been floating around town.
"But the bottom line is no one knows what the department is looking for or what they're trying to find," Colety said.
"We haven't been able to get anything from the state about what they're looking for or even what they'll charge us for," Post 69 Elder and Trustee Jerry Woodard said.
He said the Post 69's absence left a hole in the community and pointed to the Legions programs that benefit many different groups.
Post 69's closure has also put the fate of the annual Memorial Day Parade in jeopardy, Woodard said, as it's been traditionally organized by the Legion. If the situation isn't resolved soon, it could be the first time in 70 years the parade won't be held.
Sheeley said there's no time line for when the investigation would be completed.
"We haven't finished looking at the information we have," he said. "We hope to have an opportunity to interview those involved in the issue."
He said the Vermont Legion requested information on all facets of the post's operation.
"One of my missions of department is to protect integrity of our posts and ensure veterans who are members are getting the type of service, support and programs the legion sponsors," Sheeley said.
But Wright said the Vermont Legion did not follow it's own policies and procedures in place when it suspended the Post 69 charter.
"There are rules and regulations that have to be followed," he said. "And the state of Vermont is no more special than anyone else and does not have the privileged to disregard those regulations. Members are extremely upset and want to pursue their rights."
Attempts to reach Post Commander Tanya Harrison-Houston and adjutant Thomas Houston for comment were unsuccessful by press time.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979.