No pay? No work? Why not, say two high bailiff candidates
ADDISON COUNTY — While most election-season signs dotting county roadsides support candidates for statewide races and local Vermont House and Senate seats, an unusual number have also sprouted up backing two men seeking an unpaid county-wide job in which the officeholder rarely, if ever, does anything: high bailiff.
Two-term incumbent Charles Clark Jr., a Republican who is also the Addison County Sheriff Department’s chief deputy, is facing a challenge from former longtime county deputy and private sector security employee Ron Holmes, a Democrat.
Both are Middlebury residents, and both have more signs deployed on their behalf than many candidates for offices with more demanding job descriptions and political power.
In fact, there are two more names on the ballot running for high bailiff as independents.
Mark A. Stacey of Leicester and Bruce Nason of Bristol are registered with the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office as candidates, but if they have any lawn signs out promoting their campaigns they have not stood out among all the Holmes and Clark signs. Nason was hired by the Addison County Sheriff’s Department as a patrol sergeant last year; before that he was chief of the Saranac Lake, N.Y., police department. Stacey is a former deputy sheriff who left the ACSD this past July.
Clark, a 33-year-veteran of the Addison County Sheriff’s Department (ACSD), acknowledges he has taken no action as high bailiff during his two two-year terms.
“Unless something happens to the sheriff, you could be the high bailiff for 20 years and never do anything,” Clark said.
According to state law, a Vermont high bailiff may serve legal papers that the sheriff is deemed incompetent to serve. If an arrest warrant is issued against the sheriff, the high bailiff may arrest the sheriff. And if the sheriff is confined or the office of sheriff is vacant, the high bailiff can theoretically carry out the duties of the sheriff, at least until the sheriff is released from confinement or a new one is appointed and sworn into office
Current Sheriff Don Keeler believes he is the only Vermont high bailiff in the past 50 years who has succeeded a sheriff, and one of the few who has ever had to act while serving in the position.
Then the No. 2 man in the ACSD, Keeler took over department operations after the April 2012 death of then-Sheriff Jim Coons; Keeler was appointed sheriff by Gov. Peter Shumlin that summer.
Keeler said he could only maintain full ACSD operations because of his law enforcement experience, and that in practice the FBI would be more likely to arrest a sheriff than a high bailiff.
Nevertheless, the position has drawn strong interest in recent years. Clark ran without opposition in 2012, but in 2014 turned back a strong challenge from Democrat Ryan Mason; the vote tally was 5,783 to 5,638.
This August, Holmes faced a Democratic primary opponent, current ACSD Sgt. Peter Newton, prevailing 1,904-1,505.
Holmes, who in 2014 ran for sheriff vs. Keeler and lost, 9,356-538 (a total that does not include Bristol votes for Holmes), sees winning the high bailiff post as a pathway to becoming sheriff, as well as meeting his goal of continued public service. He likened the post as “emergency back-up” for the sheriff.
“I know it’s a stepping stone to become sheriff, or it normally is. Don assumed the role from Jim Coons when Jim Coons passed away,” Holmes said, adding, “It could lead to becoming sheriff. I’d certainly like to fill the role if something did happen to him (Keeler).”
Both Holmes and Clark touted their backgrounds, with Holmes pointing to his private-sector work as well as well as his service with the ACSD.
“I’ve had a lot of industrial security experience, too,” Holmes said. “I’ve worked part-time and full-time for both the sheriffs, and I had various industrial security experience as well. So I’ve got 25 years of a lot of total experience. I’ve held a secret security clearance for years with industrial security. I worked for General Dynamics, and also Goodrich Corporation.”
Clark joined the ACSD at the age of 27 and has never left. He said he is ideally positioned to keep things running smoothly if anything should happen to Keeler, who encouraged him to run for high bailiff in 2012 and is supporting him in this election.
“I think a lot of it is just being in this department and knowing how it operates if anything should happen. I’ve been there with the transition of having someone who was the high bailiff take over,” Clark said. “And being the second-in-command. It doesn’t have to be that person, but think it makes for an easier transition if there is an issue.”
Clark said if there is a transition, there is no guarantee the high bailiff would be the person to become sheriff, rather than just the individual who handles minimal operations until an appointment is made.
“People have to understand that, because the governor decides,” he said. “And there’s a lot of input from whatever party you’re running under.”
Both men were asked why voters should pick them. Holmes expanded on his experience and added that he believes he has garnered a lot of support from around the county, as evidenced by his many lawn signs.
“Honesty. Integrity,” Holmes said. “I’ve lived in Middlebury for years. I know tons of people around the county.”
Clark said he is a little surprised by the level of interest others have in the position — he recalled his 2014 race was the closest on the ballot — and the number of signs out with both his and Holmes’ names. But he wants to remain high bailiff because he agrees with Keeler it is best that someone within the ACSD hold the post.
“There are signs all over the place and people are asking me, ‘What is this all about?’” Clark said. “I’m just trying to keep it because I think it’s the right place to keep it for the moment. We’ll see what happens.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].