BENNINGTON — Bennington County Sheriff Chad Schmidt responded Friday to critics of his department and his leadership role, saying he has maintained constant contact and is purposely delegating more responsibility to staff members as he finishes out his four-year term.
The sheriff has often been notably out of the public eye for two or more years, in contrast to taking part in a number of annual public events in the past. Other officers in the department have moved into some of those roles to represent the department.
Schmidt also said allegations of unethical or unprofessional conduct by him posted on social media amount to “a bunch of nonsense,” but are being kept alive by “keyboard cowboys” on Facebook or other websites.
The sheriff, who will complete his third four-year term in December, said it is not a secret that his family now owns a home in Hawkins County, Tenn., where his wife and children reside — not far from his parents’ residence.
He said he visits Tennessee for a week at a time every four to five weeks, with plans to move there after leaving the office. He said he also still owns a home in Pownal and other property in the area.
Schmidt was in part responding to criticism from James Gulley Jr., who is running for the sheriff’s job in the fall election. Gulley said he would be highly visible as sheriff and “lead from the front,” with more transparency than he believes has been the case during Schmidt’s tenure.
The sheriff said he wants the department to be a team, and that his policy is to delegate authority as much as possible and act as a supportive mentor.
“That’s my leadership style,” he said.
“I didn’t want there to be a leadership vacuum here when I left,” Schmidt said. “If I don’t share that knowledge, then it leaves with me, and that’s not healthy or appropriate for the organization. So I’ve always been someone who mentors, someone who delegates. They know the mission at hand. They need to be empowered to make decisions. I don’t want little minions.”
Schmidt also said he began thinking of the transition to a new sheriff and a move to Tennessee in early 2020. For much of the period that followed, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic also limited the number of public, in-person events he could attend.
While in Tennessee, he added, he regularly meets virtually with department staff and is reachable if needed.
Schmidt is supporting department Lt. Joel Howard, who announced his candidacy in early February, to succeed him as sheriff.
Beau Alexander Sr. said this week he also will run for sheriff. Gulley and Alexander also ran in 2018, finishing second and third respectively to Schmidt in the November election.
Among the other allegations leveled against Schmidt are that he was involved in a questionable agreement with Bennington County Assistant Judge James Colvin to have sheriff’s vehicles washed at Bennington Car Wash on Northside Drive, which Colvin owns.
A conflict of interest complaint was filed against Colvin with the state Judicial Conduct Board, which has a policy of not commenting on investigations unless the board files a complaint against an official.
The investigation was made public by Corrigan Wright, a former resident who said she filed it with the board as a concerned citizen interested in transparency.
In defense of the car wash agreement, Schmidt has said the funding involved does not come from the county budget, which Colvin helps prepare as an assistant judge, but from revenue to the department from contracts for policing services or grants.
In addition, he said Friday that the car wash offered the department a “very good price” for cleaning its vehicles.
“He [Colvin] is not making any money on this,” Schmidt said, adding that Colvin’s car wash is staffed, which allows for an accurate count of how many vehicles are cleaned.
An attorney representing a client in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division alleged in 2019 that Schmidt had five years earlier sent “sexting” messages via Facebook to a woman involved in the client’s court case.
Schmidt denied that the messages came from him and that he ever had any kind of relationship with the woman who allegedly received them.
No apparent actions by authorities resulted from the claim and no further public statements have been made about the alleged incident.
Schmidt said he has heard nothing more about it, and he knows of no investigations of any kind targeting him.
That includes, he said, the “FBI investigations” repeatedly referred to on Facebook that supposedly are about to result in the arrests of numerous local officials, law enforcement and court personnel.