VERNON -- A nine-year veteran of Vernon’s police force says he was unfairly passed over when Selectboard members appointed an interim chief last week.
Sgt. Bruce Gauld has filed a grievance contending his status as a union member should not have been used against him when the board was hiring a temporary administrator for the department.
"This is a clear violation of the contract and labor law," Gauld said.
It is the latest fallout from the Selectboard’s Tuesday appointment of Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark to fill in for Chief Mary Beth Hebert, who is on medical leave.
The board called an emergency meeting to make that appointment after learning their initial pick for interim chief, retired officer and former Brattleboro Chief Richard Guthrie, no longer had proper state certification.
Clark has said the Vernon job doesn’t require a full-time commitment and will not affect his duties as sheriff.
But the move is causing headaches for Vernon’s Selectboard: Late last week, resident Howard Fairman filed a complaint with the state attorney general contending that the board violated Vermont’s open-meeting law.
Tuesday’s meeting was not publicly warned and does not qualify as an emergency session, Fairman claims.
Now, Gauld is objecting through the International Brotherhood of Police Officers.
Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O’Donnell has said the board could not appoint Gauld to be a department head in part because he also is a union leader.
"You can’t wear two hats," O’Donnell said last week.
Gauld said that’s not accurate, adding that there is precedent in Vernon for a union member to take over the police department.
"All I’d have to do is step down from my union activity," he said.
He is seeking a reconsideration by the Selectboard and, failing that, a hearing before an arbitrator who would decide the matter.
O’Donnell on Monday said she will be consulting with the town’s legal advisers.
"Anybody can file anything they want," she said. "It doesn’t mean the Selectboard has done anything wrong."
She also continued to defend the board’s chief appointment and the manner in which it occurred.
O’Donnell has argued that Fairman’s open-meeting complaint is groundless, saying board members "made sure we were carrying out the letter of the law" in calling the emergency session.
And on Monday, O’Donnell said a short-staffed department and mounting police overtime costs were among the reasons the Selectboard needed to find an interim chief quickly.
"The Selectboard has the legal right to make these choices," she said.
Hebert, though, has criticized the board’s decision, saying there was no need for an interim chief with Gauld filling in while she’s away.
Gauld said he’s been in contact with Hebert daily.
"Things have gone fine," he said. "We haven’t had any problems at all."
Gauld, who spent more than two decades in the Ashland, Mass., police department before coming to Vernon, said he was "totally shocked" by the Selectboard’s decision to bring in outside administrative help.
He made clear that he has no personal problem with Clark.
"Our beef really isn’t with him," Gauld said. "It’s with the way this was handled."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.