Shaftsbury delays vote to change constable terms


SHAFTSBURY -- After a lengthy debate during Monday's meeting, the Shaftsbury Select Board decided to leave constables off the Dec. 3 special election ballot.

One year or three

The ballot question would have involved changing the constables' positions from one-year elected terms to either three-year elected terms or three-year appointed terms. The ballot question would not have addressed the option of giving the constables law enforcement authority, as the town is still gathering information on the potential costs of that change.

"It adds stability," said Selectman Mitch Race, in favor of increasing the term length to three years, "To have to be elected every year, that's tough." Shaftsbury's first and second constables, Paul McGann and Robert Perry, were in attendance at the meeting. McGann agreed with Race's assessment, pointing out that by the time one learned the ins and outs of being a constable, one was up for reelection.

The select board appeared to be in agreement that an increase in term length for constables was necessary, and that making the position an appointed position, rather than an elected one, would promote further stability. A recent change to state statutes requires constables to be certified as part-time police officers, an expense the town would have to repeat every year should the town choose to elect a new constable.

A Vermont state statute says that constables can be made appointed officials, but that action requires a vote from the town. Race and Selectman Ken Harrington saw no need to put off the vote until later, with a special election already scheduled for Dec. 3, regarding the town garage bond. Chairwoman Karen Mellinger, Vice Chairman Carl Korman, and Selectman Tim Scoggins disagreed, seeing no need to "rock the boat," in Karen's words, before the garage vote. Even if the vote were made in December, according to Mellinger, the changes would not take effect until the end of the constables' current terms, in March. As such, it would make no difference whether the vote on term-lengths was done in December or March, during the annual town meeting, and she would prefer time to educate the public on the issue, before asking them to make a decision.

"We're trying to be better than Washington," said Mellinger, "We need to be completely transparent and open with the public."

The Dec. 3 special election was called to get a vote on whether or not the town could take out a $995,000 loan to cover the costs of building a new town garage on North Road. Because the law requires all select board appointees to face election at the first vote after their appointments, Race and Scoggins' seats on the board will also be contested.

Petitions to run in those races are due on Monday, Oct. 28, at 5 p.m., and are available at the Town Clerk's office.

Mellinger and Scoggins both expressed misgivings on adding additional questions to the special election ballot, citing the town's need for a new garage, and the importance of focusing on getting that item passed. The lengthy debate regarding the constables forced the discussion of the final garage bond wording to be postponed until a special select board meeting slated for Monday, Oct. 28.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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