By Mike Donoghue
The town of Shelburne and Police Chief Jim Warden are working on a possible separation agreement that will see the veteran lawman leave the department after three decades, according to his lawyer.
“Chief Warden and the town have reached a mutually satisfactory agreement, but it is subject to ratification by the Selectboard,” Burlington attorney Alison Bell of Langrock, Sperry & Wool told the Shelburne News in an email.
Bell said she could not provide any more details for the time being.
More information may become public Tuesday night when the Shelburne Selectboard has its regular meeting.
The agenda for the meeting lists the possibility of an executive session for two issues, including “Discuss personnel related to possible separation agreement with a town employee.”
Any separation agreement would need to eventually be ratified by the Selectboard in a public session.
Town Manager Joe Colangelo had little public reaction to Bell’s statement.
“This is a personnel matter and the town is not prepared to comment at this time,” he said in an email to the Shelburne News on Saturday.
The Shelburne News filed a Vermont Public Records request on Wednesday to learn how much vacation, sick and compensatory time Warden might have coming to him should he leave the department. The town later responded that the longtime chief has almost 33 weeks on the books, including 17 weeks of sick time.
Colangelo suspended Warden last month for 3 days, but gave no public explanation. The suspension was served July 19 to 21, but Warden never returned to work. Warden, 78, claimed sick time the following week and remains out of the office.
Colangelo named Deputy Chief Aaron Noble interim head of the police department until further notice. Noble was promoted to the newly created position of deputy chief on July 1.
Four Selectboard members had a special meeting on Wednesday afternoon, but quickly went into a closed-door session for 75 minutes. Colangelo and Town Attorney Brian Monaghan were invited to remain, while the public was told to leave.
When the doors re-opened, Chairman Gary von Stange declined a request to wait to take action until members of the excluded public, including some media members, could file back into the meeting room.
The board approved a motion, but there was confusion over the content. At least one board member said it was a motion to come out of the secret session and go back into public session. Colangelo said it was a motion to adjourn. The meeting ended before TV cameras had a chance to re-enter the room.
Von Stange stopped outside the meeting room to offer brief comments to reporters.
“There is an ongoing employment issue that the town is investigating. Out of respect for all participants, I am reserving comment at this time.”
When asked about the timetable for the investigation, von Stange offered little.
“I don’t quite understand … what do you mean by investigation?” von Stange asked.
He added, “But I hope to be able to speak more to you in the near future.”
Von Stange offered no other information before walking away.
Warden has not responded to multiple messages since his suspension.
He has been police chief in Shelburne for 30 years. Warden earlier served as police chief in St. Albans City for more than 10 years. Warden began his police career in Pennsylvania, where he worked as police chief for two departments.
Unrelated to the Warden issue the town has been working on a possible management audit of the police department. The board voted 3-1, with Dr. Colleen Parker opposed, to spend $8,500. The money was not budgeted, but will come out of the police department budget.
Parker had questioned whether the audit needed to be done this year, according to minutes of the meeting. James Mack said he thought the Selectboard should stick to the voter-approved budget.
Von Stange said the company, Legal Liability and Risk Management Institute, is highly recommended by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
Colangelo said with all the potential liability the town faces by having a police department he thought the $8,500 was a bargain.
Selectboard member Jerry Storey noted the last audit for the police department’s operation was 20 years ago.
The audit would review policies and procedures, best practices and court decisions. The auditor would review citizen complaints and officer discipline over the past three years. The auditor also would check training records, operation of the property and evidence room and technology, including police video and computers. Ride-alongs with officers also would be part of the review.