PUTNEY — The Select Board is still unsure where the town's community policing will come from.
In the past, without problem, the town signs a full-time, 40-hour contract with the Windham County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement, but after the Select Board received an email saying the Sheriff's Office was rescinding its contract, board members have been scratching their heads on where to go next. While the Sheriff's Office has agreed to offer a 20-hour contract with Putney at the same rate as the previous 40-hour contract, Municipal Manager Cynthia Stoddard feels she has been intentionally left out of newly proposed contract with the Sheriff's Office.
"It's clear to me with the way this is written now and offered to us, there is a reason why certain things are left out of the contract that are dealing with me," Stoddard said at a Select Board special meeting on Wednesday, June 22.
The contract that Putney is currently under until June 30, states the scope of services provided to the town as well as "...other policing needs as directed or requested by the Select Board and Town Manager." The proposed contract for the period of July 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016 states it will provide these other policing needs as requested by the Select Board, leaving out the town manager.
Others in attendance at Wednesday's meeting spoke up about further communication issues they noticed at Monday's Public Safety Committee. Tom Goddard, Putney's Fire Chief, made some comments at Wednesday's meeting as an individual and not on behalf of the fire department. He said he was concerned with the "obvious blatant degree" of disrespect on the part of the sheriff toward Stoddard and he felt it was "pretty significant." Goddard also noted there was some disrespect toward the committee and he hopes the matter is ironed out. He advised the Select Board that if the disrespect continues, the board should "look in a different direction."
Another member of the Public Safety Committee said he could feel the tension in the room at Monday's meeting.
Stoddard said she is confident the matter can be resolved via a casual conversation with Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark. Other Select Board members danced around the idea of whether they should bring a mediator in to settle the matter.
Jeremy Evans, a resident of Putney, asked the Select Board, "How far do we take that mediation?" He noted that when the town has a contract with an outside entity and it does not provide desired services, the town should "change routes."
Regardless, the Select Board plans to make a decision of whether to go forth with the Sheriff's Office, with a six-month contract of 20 hours per week at a rate of $49 per hour, or with the Vermont State Police contract of 24 hours or less per week at $68.35 per hour.
On Wednesday, Select Board Chairman Joshua Laughlin said the board will delay signing a contract, as it "doesn't feel good" to sign if there is discomfort with the contract among the town manager and the sheriff. Laughlin added that the plan is to enter into a contract with one of the departments and then have more discussion in a formal setting with residents at Town Meeting in March.
Steve Hed, a Select Board member and member of the Public Safety Committee, said the committee's recommendation to the Select Board is to renew the contract with the Sheriff's Office. Laughlin noted that having VSP for community policing would have a "different feel," with both pros and cons. He also mentioned that while VSP services cost about 30 percent more compared to the Sheriff's Office, it could be a better option if the town receives 30 percent more services.
Clark said he had no comment at this point regarding the contract as it is still under negotiation.
Stoddard told the Reformer on Friday evening that she, Clark and Laughlin plan to meet Tuesday to discuss the matter.
The Putney Select Board will meet at the Town Hall on Wednesday, June 29, at 5:30 p.m. to further discuss this matter and other agenda items.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275.