Settlement means new job for former chief
MIKE FAHER , Brattleboro Reformer
VERNON -- Former Vernon police Chief Kevin Turnley is back on the job, albeit with a different rank and work schedule.
Seven months after the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that Turnley had been wrongfully terminated, he and town officials have reached a settlement calling for his return to the force as a part-time corporal.
The agreement, which also included a still-undisclosed financial component, brings an end to years of litigation.
"I’m glad it’s over and done with and that we’ve been able to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable to all of us," Vernon Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O’Donnell said. "It’s time for a new slate and to start over again."
Sharon Annis, Turnley’s Brattleboro-based attorney, said the settlement "vindicates my client."
"It’s been a long, long road," Annis said. "And I will say that, overwhelmingly, the most important issue for my client was to have his name cleared."
The dispute dates to October 2009, when Turnley claimed he had no prior knowledge of a sex offender moving into Vernon.
But an earlier e-mail from the state contradicted that claim. And the Selectboard, citing "conduct unbecoming an officer," subsequently fired Turnley.
The ousted chief reacted by taking legal action on two fronts, claiming that Vernon owed him for more than 1,000 overtime hours and that he had been wrongfully terminated.
The Supreme Court ruled against the overtime claim in 2012. But the appeals court sided with Turnley on the termination claim, ruling in June 2013 that -- while the police chief’s statements were inaccurate -- there was no evidence that Turnley intentionally tried to mislead Vernon Selectboard.
"Because the (Selectboard’s) findings or lack thereof with respect to the allegation that the chief knowingly and deliberately misled the public are ambiguous, we conclude that they cannot support the board’s determination to fire the chief for conduct unbecoming an officer under our officer-tenure statute," the court wrote.
The case was remanded back to the town for further proceedings. A mediation session involving a neutral third party was set up in December, Annis said.
"Both parties satisfactorily resolved the dispute," she said, adding that "the town of Vernon participated in this mediation in good faith, and we reached a good-faith resolution."
That resolution involved the town rehiring Turnley to work 20 hours per week, O’Donnell said. The town’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 has been modified to include Turnley’s wages, which records show will be $21.78 per hour.
"He is completing the final certification requirements," Annis said. "We expect him to return to the job very shortly."
Turnley will maintain his seniority, she added.
The former chief also had been seeking back pay and damages. Annis confirmed that there is a "financial aspect" to Turnley’s settlement with the town, but she said the parties have agreed to keep the terms confidential.
A Vernon legal representative could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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