Vernon police chief resigns as department's future in doubt
VERNON -- Police Chief Mary Beth Hebert has resigned and will leave her post at week's end, days before a Town Meeting that could decide the fate of her department.
Hebert, who has been Vernon's chief since October 2009 and a member of the department since 2005, tendered her resignation Monday. Her final day as chief will be Friday.
Town voters last month drastically cut funding for the police department in the fiscal year 2015 budget, and that decision -- along with any other budgetary matter -- will be discussed during budget reconsideration at a special Town Meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, May 5, at Vernon Elementary.
In an interview Tuesday, Hebert declined to comment directly on that issue or on the history of conflict between her department and the Vernon Selectboard.
"It's been an honor to serve the citizens of Vernon for the past nine years," Hebert said. "I have accomplished all of my goals for the police department, and I am very proud of all the excellent work we have done for the town of Vernon."
Hebert added that "I am on to my next challenge, whatever that may be. I wish all the best for the future of Vernon."
Vernon Selectboard, at a special meeting Tuesday evening, accepted Hebert's resignation "with regret." After a brief executive session, the board appointed Vernon police Cpl. Matthew Stains as the department's interim chief effective immediately.
"Thank you. I know you'll do a great job," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell told Stains.
O'Donnell said Stains, who has been with the department for more than three years, was an easy choice.
"Matt's well-liked in the community. He's well-respected in the community," O'Donnell said. "That's why we chose him."
The Selectboard will wait to see what voters decide on Monday before beginning a formal search for a new chief.
"We will start a search for the police chief if that's the vote of the townspeople," O'Donnell said.
With the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant scheduled to close by year's end, the Selectboard had proposed more than $400,000 in budget cuts for fiscal 2015, which begins July 1. The board had reduced some police expenses, but officials said the budget still had provided for 140 hours of weekly coverage from the department.
But Town Meeting voters went much further, amending the budget on a 118-112 vote to leave just $40,000 in police funding. That effectively would shut the town department, with Selectboard members instructed to sign a contract for supplemental coverage with the Windham County Sheriff's Department or Vermont State Police.
A petition for budget reconsideration was driven by those who want to restore police funding. Hebert also had fiercely defended her department, saying Vernon officers are busy and respond to many incidents that may not receive attention from an outside law-enforcement agency.
"You cannot compare a town that has never had a police department with Vernon," Hebert said in an interview following the Town Meeting vote. "Vernon has had a police department since the 70s. They are used to a certain level of service."
Even before the Town Meeting vote, there had been tension between Vernon Selectboard and police.
That includes a long-term dispute with former police Chief Kevin Turnley, who was fired in 2009. Turnley lost a claim for unpaid overtime, but the Vermont Supreme Court last year ruled that he had been wrongfully terminated; a settlement included his reinstatement to the Vernon force as a part-time corporal earlier this year.
Hebert also has clashed with the Selectboard. For instance, in 2012, there was prolonged disagreement over whether the department could buy a new cruiser; ultimately, the car was purchased.
On Tuesday, the day after she delivered a brief resignation letter to some Selectboard members and to the town treasurer, Hebert said simply, "I feel that I've done all that I can do."
She preferred to comment generally on her time in Vernon.
"It has been a privilege to work with the professional men and women on my staff, and I will miss them most sincerely," Hebert said. "To all the friends I have made in Vernon, you will be greatly missed, and I will take with me all the fond memories I have of your kindness and friendship."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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