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James Gulley Jr. 

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BENNINGTON — James Gulley Jr. has joined a growing field of candidates seeking to replace outgoing Bennington County Sheriff Chad Schmidt, who announced last month he will not seek reelection.

Also planning to run for the post are Sheriff’s Department Lt. Joel Howard and Beau Alexander Sr. Howard announced his intention to seek the office in early February, and Gulley did so on Friday. Alexander expects to follow suit shortly.

Gulley and Alexander both challenged Schmidt in 2018, finishing second and third respectively in the November election.

Howard said he is running this year with the support of his boss, Schmidt.

‘ETHICS, TRANSPARENCY’

In announcing his campaign bid, Gulley noted that he placed a strong emphasis on combating drug trafficking and addiction during his 2018 campaign, and he believes a strong effort is still needed.

But what has also emerged as an important issue for the Sheriff’s Department, he said, is a need “to get back to fundamental principles.”

Gulley said he wants to “establish a strong set of ethics” and promote greater transparency within the department, adding, “That’s where I would take the agency if elected.”

Feedback he has received from people “encourages me to strengthen the organization’s foundational stances,” he said. “For example, establish and adhere to departmental core values, along with a departmental code of ethics.”

The Sheriff’s Department is a unique law enforcement organization that is operated like a business, he said, regarding its contracts with towns and other entities to provide policing services. That requires a sheriff who is visible throughout the community to ensure transparency and trust in the department’s services.

Referring to criticism over the past few years that Schmidt has remained largely out of the public eye since being reelected in 2018, Gulley said he would reverse that situation.

“If you are at the helm, you can’t be part-time,” Gulley said. “You can’t be a part-time leader, and that is not me. I will be there.”

SHERIFF BOWING OUT

In November 2018, Schmidt won a third four-year term as sheriff since being appointed to fill a vacancy in the post in 2009. The sheriff, who confirmed to the Banner early last month that he wasn’t running for another term, also said he planned to move to Tennessee after his term ends, and confirmed that his family has owned property for the past few years.

The sheriff said he has not been missing in action but remains closely involved in the department, working remotely during trips to Tennessee to see his family every four to five weeks.

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He also said his leadership style is to mentor and empower staff members to take the initiative and accept responsibility for making decisions, rather than control the department from the top down.

Gulley expressed disappointment that sheriff’s deputies haven’t spoken up about or tried to reverse what he sees as “a serious void in leadership within the organization.”

He added that “if there is anything that has transpired within the organization that is considered unethical, or even immoral, it is also the responsibility of the deputies themselves” to be transparent or offer input to make corrections, “instead of kind of hinder or cooperate with behaviors taking place.”

If there are departmental issues that need addressing, Gulley said, “You are a law enforcement officer,” and should work to make changes, “or you are going to have to resign and move on.”

Howard responded to the comments on Friday in an email, saying, “I have no intention of engaging in those personal issues or attacks. My campaign will be about and focus on the real issues that we as a community are facing. I look forward to that debate.”

NARCOTICS INVESTIGATOR

Gulley, 43, is a narcotics crime investigator/detective and patrol officer with the Manchester Police Department. As an investigator, he works with officers from other departments and agencies as part of collaborative Drug Task Force operations.

“It saddens me to think that since my 2018 campaign, the drug problem has only gotten worse,” he said in a campaign statement. “Our county continues to set yearly overdose records, identifying Bennington County as one of the hardest hit. Decent people continue to struggle with narcotic addiction, and those struggling with addiction continue to die, leaving behind a wake of grief and despair.”

Gulley also previously served with the Bennington Police Department for 14 years before leaving to take a position teaching law enforcement courses with the Southwest Tech Center, where he still is a faculty member.

‘US VERSUS THEM’

Gulley added in his release, “I want to take a moment to discuss the divide, the ‘us vs. them’ mentality we have experienced over the last few years. No matter our differences, we all belong to each other. We all walk the same streets, shop in the same shops, and live in the same communities. We should all learn to respect each other, whether it be Black Lives Matter, issues surrounding problems that LGBTQ+ individuals experience, anti-Asian sentiment, antisemitism, or other anti-immigrant actions.”

A strong business plan also “is a must for the Sheriff’s Department, as the organization relies on a mixture of funding sources,” Gulley said.

He added, “The next Bennington County Sheriff should have a graduate-level degree at a minimum, financial management skills, an understanding of human resource law, and knowledge of policy creation and analysis. The master’s in Public Administration degree I have earned from Norwich University and further graduate-level course work, with 20 years of law enforcement experience, have provided me with the desired skill sets necessary to be the next sheriff of Bennington County.”

Gulley said he intends to release a strategic plan for the Sheriff’s Department after submitting his nomination papers for the county office in May.

He said anyone wishing to contact him or support his campaign can contact him at gulleyforsheriff@gmail.com.

Jim Therrien writes for Vermont News and Media, including the Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal and Brattleboro Reformer. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com


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