Former deputy Holmes eyes return as county’s new sheriff

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County High Bailiff Ron Holmes has the power to arrest the sheriff if such an action were ever warranted.
He’s never been called upon to do so.
And now, with Sheriff Don Keeler preparing to retire at year’s end, Holmes is involved in a three-man race to lead the department on which he served as a deputy for 25 years.
It’s Holmes’ second attempt to lead an organization with a staff of almost 20 full- and part-time workers performing such duties as traffic patrols, prisoner transport, courthouse security, fingerprinting and service of court-related documents. He waged an unsuccessful write-in campaign against Keeler back in 2014.
Holmes, 63, will face fellow Middlebury Democrat Peter Newton in an Aug. 14 primary to determine who will face independent candidate Kevin Gibbs in the Nov. 6 general election. The Independent has already published profiles of Gibbs, who last summer retired as Bristol’s police chief, and Newton, a sheriff’s department lieutenant who has received Keeler’s endorsement.
If elected sheriff, Holmes said his priorities would include reopening the county jail, re-establishing county-wide dispatching for public safety organizations through the sheriff’s department, and putting more emphasis on fighting drug-related crime.
“I’d like to see narcotics interdiction become one of our main jobs,” Holmes said.
Holmes is a lifelong Addison County resident and has resided in Middlebury since 1985. He began his career in construction, working eight years for Pike Industries, and then switched over to the automotive industry. Holmes worked at Paul Steele’s service station in downtown Middlebury for around 11 years.
But Holmes said he found his true calling — law enforcement — during a visit to the old Addison County Courthouse in Court Square back in 1988. He saw two sheriff’s deputies handling court security and delivering prisoners for arraignment.
“I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I should try that; it looks interesting,’” Holmes recalled.
As luck would have it, then-Sheriff Jim Coons (now deceased) was at the time looking for some new deputies. Holmes interviewed with Coons and landed a job. He took the requisite training at the Vermont Police Academy and in 1989 began a long stint with the sheriff’s department that included traffic enforcement, prisoner transport and other assignments.
“It worked out real well,” he said. “It was a pretty good fit.”
It was a job that Holmes said he thoroughly enjoyed and allowed him to take on other related work.
“I had good luck when I worked there; I was honest and was good to people,” Holmes said of his experience with the sheriff’s department. “I had very few negative interactions with people. I was always straight up with people. As Jim Coons said, ‘You don’t write lousy tickets; write them when it’s justified,’ and I followed through on that.”
He juggled his part-time deputy work with some corporate security jobs that gave him health care and other benefits that weren’t offered through the sheriff’s department. His private employers included United Technologies in Vergennes (formerly Goodrich Corp.), General Dynamics in Burlington, and the state of Vermont. He’s currently a full-time security officer at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Holmes said he left the department around five years ago after being laid off by Keeler. He wants to return as sheriff. This year’s race has drawn a lot of interest in view of Keeler’s imminent retirement.
The Addison County countryside is starting to fill up with Newton, Holmes and Gibbs campaign signs. Holmes conceded Newton is winning the sign race thus far, but he’s hoping that history will repeat itself in terms of his past primary election performance against Newton. Holmes topped Newton 1,904 to 1,505 in the 2016 Democrat primary for high bailiff.
In addition to serving as high bailiff (he will leave the post when his term expires at the end of 2018), Holmes has contributed to other civic and non-profit causes. He said he’s been a sustaining member of the Shoreham Historical Society the past four years and was recently elected to the organization’s board of trustees. He’s been a member of the Middlebury Garden Club, and is a regular volunteer for the United Way of Addison County’s annual “Days of Caring.” He’s also a member of the Porter Hospital Auxiliary group and added he’s been a longtime supporter of Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects, Homeward Bound and WomenSafe.
“I am a member of the National Sheriff’s Association, supporter of the New England Police Chiefs’ Association and a very proud supporter the Disabled American Veterans,” he added.
Holmes believes he has the experience and formula to improve the sheriff’s department and its operations.
His top priority is to reopen the old jail.
The Addison County Sheriff’s Department closed its 22-bed jail in 2012 following expiration of a 15-year contract with the U.S. Marshals Service. The operation included five full-time jailers to supervise federal detainees awaiting trial for various offenses, ranging from white collar crimes to drug trafficking. The jail also provided free night-shift dispatching for five area fire departments and a no-cost detainment venue for local offenders awaiting arraignment at the nearby courthouse.
That jail space has since been put to other uses, including headquarters to the Addison County Unit for Special Investigations.
Holmes believes the county still needs a place to detain prisoners, along with the dispatching service that the facility used to provide. He acknowledged it would cost a lot of money to restore those services, and he doesn’t at this point know where the funds would come from.
“That’s a challenge,” he said, though he hopes he could persuade the U.S. Marshals of state of Vermont to sign a new contract.
“We’re sending inmates out of state right now,” Holmes said. “Money is always an issue.”
Another priority for Holmes, if elected sheriff: Providing deputies with opportunities to get in shape and stay fit.
“I would like to make a fitness center membership available to members of the department,” he said. “We have two great fitness centers in town.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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