The Shelburne Selectboard has pulled the plug on a plan to review the process of how the departure of veteran Police Chief James Warden was handled this past summer.
Town Manager Joe Colangelo said the town attorney in a letter urged selectboard members to avoid an inquiry. The attorney was concerned any investigation would be impossible without “bumping up” against the confidentiality agreement reached in the case, Colangelo said. While it might be a great idea, it is not the right thing to do at this time, he said.
Attempts by the Shelburne News to obtain a copy of the letter before deadline were unsuccessful.
Colangelo said Wednesday morning it would be up to the full selectboard whether the letter, which was discussed in some detail during the public meeting Tuesday night, would be released. He said he was declining the release of the letter based on advice from Town Attorney Brian Monaghan. The Shelburne News subsequently filed a formal appeal under Vermont’s Public Records Law seeking the release by the board.
Many town residents have criticized the way Warden, who had served as Shelburne police chief for 30 years, was treated in his final weeks on the job. Colangelo suspended him for three days in July, but that was later withdrawn as part of a negotiated settlement with Warden retiring. Warden remains a paid consultant for the town through Jan. 31 “in order to assure a smooth transition to new leadership.”
Colangelo and selectboard member Dr. Josh Dein initially pushed for the review as a way for the town to learn about any possible missteps. Former selectboard member Chris Boyd had suggested that the town could also look at other separations to see how other Shelburne employees were treated by management in recent years.
At a board meeting two weeks ago, board Chairman Gary von Stange said he was checking into finding lawyers who might have been willing to do the review and he had one in mind.
However all that changed when the letter arrived from Monaghan, the town attorney.
Selectboard member Jerry Storey told the audience nobody will regret more than him that the board could not follow through on the inquiry.
Residents also are concerned about how the settlement with Warden was negotiated. While negotiations went over several days, the selectboard conducted only a couple of meetings, so it remains a mystery who was directing the town attorney on a daily basis. None acknowledged during the meeting being the point person with the town attorney for the talks.
Warden’s suspension was for July 19-21 for unspecified reasons. Warden, who had told the Shelburne News in June that he was looking to retire probably in September, never returned to the job.
On Aug. 9, the selectboard voted 5-0 to accept the terms of the settlement negotiated between by the town attorney and Warden’s lawyer. The chief’s resignation was effective Aug. 4.
Warden’s lawyer maintained the suspension was unwarranted. “There has been much talk in the press and among the public of a three-day unpaid suspension. We assert that the suspension was completely unjustified, and imposed without following the proper procedures,” Alison Bell of Langrock, Sperry & Wool said at the time. “As part of our agreement with the Town, the suspension has been rescinded, all references to it have been expunged from Jim’s personnel record, and he has been paid for the three days.”
Boyd said part of the problem with the inquiry would be how to investigate what lead up to a suspension that now appears as it never happened. All documents were supposed to be expunged, so how would an investigator follow a trail, he asked.
Shannon Warden, one of the former chief’s daughters, told the selectboard it was her father’s decision to tell his department that he had been suspended.
She said because the suspension was a personnel decision when it happened, it could have stayed confidential, but Chief Warden believed in transparency and opted to share the information. He thought it was important in police work to have faith in the people that you work around each day, she said.