howard

Lt. Joel Howard has left the Bennington County Sheriff's Department for a position with the Windham County Sheriff's Department. He also is expected to run for the post of constable in his home town of Pownal.

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POWNAL — Joel Howard Jr., who ran unsuccessfully last year for Bennington County sheriff, has left the department for a position in the Windham County Sheriff’s Department.

Howard, who was a lieutenant with the Bennington department, lost in the November election to in-coming Sheriff James Gulley Jr., who will be sworn in next month.

In addition, Howard, a resident of Pownal, has taken out nomination papers to run for the position of town constable in the March election. He is expected to face Leo Haggerty, who was elected constable two years ago.

Howard did not immediately return a phone call Friday seeking comment.

Howard served previously as town constable for two years before working for the past 16 years with the Sheriff’s Department, beginning as a deputy and moving over the years up to lieutenant in rank.

POLICING CHANGES?

The Pownal Select Board has been simultaneously considering new options for providing police services in Pownal, which could include appointing a constable certified as a law enforcement officer and purchasing the necessary equipment.

Policing services is considered a priority for the use of some of the American Rescue Plan Act pandemic relief funding Pownal will receive, officials said.

“It was a general consensus, as each board member, and myself, listed law enforcement as a priority for ARPA spending,” said Pownal Executive Assistant Tara Parks.

A change from an elected to an appointed constable would require voter approval in March of ballot articles seeking to make the post an appointed one and seeking to authorize the constable, “if they hold the required state certifications, to exercise law enforcement authority, in accordance with [state law].”

A third ballot question asks that the Select Board have authority to appoint a second constable, if needed.

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“The board’s discussion around the possibility of having a hired constable, or Pownal law enforcement, is still very preliminary,” Parks said Friday. “The board prioritized the creation of Pownal’s own professional local law enforcement during their ARPA discussions. The board decided to put the constable items on the ballot so they would have all avenues open to them if they decide to move forward.”

SHERIFF’S CONTRACT

Currently, the town contracts with the Bennington County Sheriff’s Department for police services, under an annual contract costing the town approximately $80,000, officials said.

The Select Board has discussed the option of discontinuing its contract with the department and directing that funding to other policing service formats, which could include a constable or constables.

Select Board liaison Rebecca Dragon said one possible goal “would be to no longer have a contract with the Sheriff’s Department and create our own local law enforcement.”

Asked whether Howard, who holds the required law enforcement certifications, would be considered for constable if it becomes a board-appointed post, Dragon said, “Yes, Joel would be a good candidate, and hopefully he would apply. Or, if the town decides to take the route of making the elected/appointed constable position a paid position, he would hold this position were he to win the election or appointment.”

But she said no final decisions have been made concerning the future of police coverage in Pownal.

“However, I believe there are other ways to create a law enforcement outside of the constable model,” Dragon said. “So this is the research that is ongoing and is only in the preliminary stages. I can’t make any conjecture on how any of this might turn out.”

She said town staff members have been researching how a new policing format would work and are still in the information-gathering phase.

“We still have a lot of legwork to do,” Parks said, “and once we determine feasibility, we would need to spend a lot of time educating the public, and ensuring we are following all relevant regulations and guidelines.”

Jim Therrien can be reached at therrienjim76@gmail.com or by phone at 413-281-2646.

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