Vergennes mayor and others ‘jailed’ in city Rotary fundraiser

VERGENNES — After being jailed on Park Street for crimes ranging from being loud — that would be Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley — to impersonating a mayor and allegedly misbehaving in high school — that would be city mayor Bill Benton — a number of Vergennes-area residents on Thursday tapped friends and family members for more than $3,000 to be bailed out.
Those funds were turned over to the Vergennes Rotary Club, which in turn planned to donate the cash to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes.
The city’s Rotary club thus fulfilled much of its annual pledge to support the youth club’s food program, thanks to its first Jail and Bail fundraiser.
Rotary community service chairwoman Lynn Donnelly said club officials were happy with the more than $3,000 raised and the willingness of many residents to be arrested in support of the cause, and that Jail and Bail could become an annual fundraising fixture.
“We’re very pleased with the turnout yesterday,” said Rotary community service chairwoman Lynn Donnelly. “I think this will be a new event for us.”
In all, presiding judge and Vergennes city attorney Jim Ouimette — who wielded a heavy gavel with light wit — sentenced 14 citizens to sit in a rusty, 40-square-foot jail cell plunked down on Park Street. Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel and Officer Brent Newton provided security for the proceedings.
Those jailed, at least those who did not have the foresight to arrange bail in advance, then had to start making phone calls seeking donations totaling at least $100 in order to be sprung from captivity.
Organizers said all the participants at least met that goal: Charles Keeley, Bob Jenkins, Shanon Atkins, Jessie Jackman (representing Tom Jackman), Michael Donnelly, Hawley, Tim Buskey, Liz Markowski, Bruce Zeman, David Welch, Benton, Scott Gaines, 2012 Miss Teen Vermont Caroline Jones and an Independent reporter were jailed. Bev Biello, Roberta “Cookie” Steponaitis, Liz Ryan and Connie Houston paid in advance to avoid incarceration.
Michael Donnelly, a Rotary member, also served as an arresting agent. He said one of the hardened criminals he busted, Jenkins, turned out to be the day’s top fundraiser.
Donnelly theorized that people were paying to keep the former Ferrisburgh selectman in jail before giving Jenkins credit.
“He really rose to the occasion,” Donnelly said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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