Clark seeks third term as sheriff
NEWFANE -- On his office's website, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark says he believes "the sheriff's department can only be successful with the support of its surrounding communities."
And Clark believes he is abiding by that doctrine, with a growing number of communities -- 15 currently, with the 16th coming on July 1 -- signing law-enforcement contracts with the sheriff's department.
That's one reason Clark, a Democrat, is running this year for a third term as sheriff: He wants to continue expanding his department's reach while also offering new services.
If elected for another four years, Clark pledges to undertake "a lot of very progressive things for the county."
Clark is a former police officer in Dover, a former Vermont state trooper and former chief of the Bellows Falls Police Department. He moved from that position into the sheriff's post, winning the office by besting Republican Terry Martin in November 2006.
That was the same year that former Sheriff Sheila Prue resigned and pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement and two misdemeanor charges in connection with what the state's auditor called "widespread corruption" in her office.
Clark said his first term as sheriff was about "rebuilding -- there were a lot of things that we had to re-establish." That included the department's services, the quality of those services and financial checks and balances, he said.
Clark's second term, which began in 2011, "was really moving things forward -- putting in place the right staff and really building the ability of the department," he said.
That has included expansion of supplemental-patrol contracts with area towns and schools. Such contracts are critical, as the sheriff's department receives a relatively small amount of county money and must use contractual revenues to cover manpower, cruisers, equipment and other expenses.
"We've got more and more towns that are supporting us financially ... when I first took over, that wasn't the case," Clark said.
Some of those contracts are for relatively limited services. But the sheriff's department also has four towns that are buying 40 hours of coverage per week -- Stratton, Westminster, Putney and, when the new fiscal year begins, Townshend.
Also on July 1, the sheriff's department will begin providing 24/7 coverage in Vernon. Voters there decided to shut the town police department and allocate $231,624 for a full-time sheriff's presence in fiscal year 2015.
Clark noted that his department also has implemented a 24-hour dispatching service.
"We provide that to a couple different agencies," he said. "I'm looking to expand that in the next couple years so that we can provide more jobs in Windham County."
The dispatching service also plays a key role in another new venture: Clark has won state approval -- and $200,000 in funding -- for an electronic-monitoring pilot program that, if successful, could change the way criminal-court suspects are detained statewide.
Under the pilot program, Windham County detainees under home detention will be monitored via the sheriff's dispatching center and deputies.
"I think I've shown, over the last two terms, that I'm always willing to look at options -- different ways of doing things," Clark said.
Expanded services also have meant expanded manpower at the sheriff's Newfane headquarters. Clark said that, when he started, the department mainly was a daytime, Monday-through-Friday outfit.
"I think we've actually more than doubled the full-time staff," he said.
Clark pledges that, as he continues to expand the department, he also will be open and accountable to the public. For example, recent audit statements are posted on the department's website, www.windhamsheriff.com.
"My door is always open," Clark said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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