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Holmes takes on Keeler in race for Addison County sheriff

MIDDLEBURY —  It was Gov. Peter Shumlin who appointed Don Keeler to serve as Addison County sheriff after longtime incumbent James Coons died in office during the spring of 2012.
Now Keeler is looking for an official mandate from the voters as he seeks to win the post for the first time on Nov. 4. Keeler faces opposition from write-in candidate Ron Holmes, a former deputy with the department. Both men mapped out their priorities for the Addison Independent during recent interviews.
Keeler began as a part-time deputy with the county sheriff’s department back in 1972. When Keeler and his family sold their filling station on Court Street in 1988, Coons asked him to sign on full-time. Keeler ultimately agreed. As the elected high bailiff, it was Keeler’s responsibility to step in as acting sheriff when Coons lost his battle with cancer in April of 2012. Soon after moving into the sheriff’s office, Keeler got to work making his own imprint on the department.
That imprint included providing space within the sheriff’s department Court Street headquarters for the Addison County Unit for Special Investigations (ACUSI) that focuses on sexual assault and domestic violence cases. Led by Vermont State Police Sgt. Ruth Whitney, the unit is based in some of the space formerly occupied by the county jail, which closed in 2012.
“I made that promise when I was sworn in, and I made it happen,” Keeler said of ACUSI. “The ACUSI focus is something I am very proud of, and I think the county should be proud of it as well.”
That unit has since been supplemented by a children’s advocacy center, also located within the sheriff’s department.
Keeler will seek some grant money to begin offering anti-bullying classes at area schools. The Rotary Club has already donated resources toward this effort, Keeler noted. And the sheriff is also trying to secure grant money to fund a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer for Addison County.
Also ranking high on Keeler’s list is his department’s recent efforts in shopping its speed enforcement services to more local communities. The department most recently signed a contract with Hancock, bringing the total to 17 towns in which deputies now conduct speed details.
“It is the most ever,” Keeler said of the contracts.
The sheriff’s department payroll currently includes 17 full- and part-time workers, with an additional two administrative positions funded through the county budget. Keeler’s workforce includes five full-time patrolmen. The deputies now have access to six new patrol cruisers, paid for through the department’s capital fund.
“I’m very proud of my organization,” Keeler said.
Meanwhile, Holmes — who worked as a deputy with the department for 25 years until being told by Keeler this past spring that his services would no longer be needed amid a reorganization of the force — is hoping to become the new sheriff. Holmes’ name appeared on the Aug. 26 primary ballot, but after the primary election he asked that his name not appear on the general election ballot because of some family issues. After re-thinking that decision, Holmes later asked to have his name on the general election ballot but it was too late to do so.
“My family was concerned about me running, and I dragged my feet a little bit,” Holmes said.
But Holmes said he is now a serious candidate and is appealing for write-in votes on Nov. 4.
“I have spoken to many county residents,” Holmes said of his campaigning efforts.
Holmes, 59, was born and raised in Shoreham and has lived in Middlebury for the past 22 years. His résumé includes security work for United Technology Corp. in Vergennes, General Dynamics in Burlington and for the state of Vermont at the Asa Bloomer Building in Rutland. Holmes joined the Addison County Sheriff’s Department in 1989, and submitted his resignation letter this past April after having received notice from Keeler.
Holmes claimed to have had a “great working relationship” with Keeler while with the department, but was candid in his criticism of the incumbent sheriff. For example, he alleged that Keeler had gotten a copy of his (Holmes’) original candidate petition and contacted some of those who signed it. He also said he would be more of a “hands-on” sheriff than Keeler.
“I couldn’t believe he did that,” Holmes said of the petition issue.
Keeler acknowledged having checked out Holmes’ petition — which he noted is a public record — and maintained he is an active sheriff, logging a lot of cruiser time while keeping vigil at major events, such as Addison County Fair and Field Days.
If elected, Holmes outlined a series of priorities he would like to introduce, including:
•  Shifting enforcement emphasis from highway safety/speed control to property crimes, such as burglaries.
•  Bringing back local dispatching.
•  Exploring the possibility of reopening the county jail.
•  Collaborating with the Addison County Humane Society in exploring animal cruelty cases.
•  Encouraging department personnel to participate in physical fitness programs.
“We have had the same people in that office for 40 years,” Holmes said of the Addison County Sheriff’s Department. “I think a change is in order.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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