Editorial: Newton, Holmes face off in race for sheriff

In 12 days Vermont voters will be asked to determine which candidates should win their party’s  nomination in the Primary Election on August 14. As is typical in primary races at the local level, many races among party favorites are unopposed. It’s the sort of thing that gets worked out behind the scenes, with the real battles to be waged in the General Election on Nov. 6.
But that’s not always the case. Local primaries of interest include a heated battle in the race for Addison County Sheriff between Middlebury Democrats Peter Newton and Ron Holmes, and in Addison-4 (Bristol, Lincoln, Starksboro and Monkton) four Democrats are competing for two slots to fill the House seat being vacated by Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol. The four Democrats are Paul Forlenza, a retired business consultant of Lincoln; Mari Cordes, a Registered Nurse, also of Lincoln; Robert Demic, a Bristol builder; and Caleb Elder, a renewable energy specialist of Starksboro.
The two winning Democrats will take on Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol, and Independent Vallerie Mullin for the two-seat district.
The other competitive primary race is for governor with four Democrats vying for the one spot to represent that party, and with Gov. Phil Scott vying against businessman Keith Stern to represent the Republican Party. There are no primaries races for the other statewide political offices for lieutenant governor, auditor, treasurer, secretary of state, or attorney general, though U.S. Congressman Peter Welch is facing a challenge within the Democratic Party, while Sen. Bernie Sanders has no challengers. U.S. Patrick Leahy is just two years into a six-year-term.
In this column, we’ll review the race between the two Democrats for sheriff, and tackle the other primaries on Monday, Aug. 6.
Locally, the race for Addison County Sheriff is drawing the most attention, perhaps because of the lawn signs for both candidates and a few flare-ups that mask an underlying tension in the race. It’s also true that the winner of the Democratic primary has typically been considered a favorite to win the General Election, although that might not be true in this race as former Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs will be running as an Independent in the General Election. There is no declared Republican in the race.
As background, the ACSD has 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.
Peter Newton
Newton, 46, is currently employed as a lieutenant within the Sheriff’s Department under Sheriff Donald Keeler, and has received Keeler’s endorsement. He joined the department in 2012 starting as a deputy and moving up to lieutenant over the past six years. Previously, he joined the Middlebury Police Department in 2003, working there until he joined the Sheriff’s Department nine years later. From 1990 to 2003, he had worked for several emergency response organizations, including the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (now known as Middlebury Regional EMS) and Fletcher Allen Coordinated Transport. He’s former crew chief of MVAA’s heavy rescue unit and a past member of the organization’s board of directors.
Newton has more than 2,000 hours of law enforcement training and is himself an educator. He is a patrol-procedures instructor and basic training assistant at the Vermont Police Academy.
If elected, Newton said he would have the advantage of hitting the ground running on an ambitious agenda that includes, bringing a police dog onto the force to help deputies track missing persons and suspects, as well as detect contraband (saying that even though the New Haven state police barracks, as well as the Middlebury and Vergennes Police Departments each have K-9 teams, those dogs weren’t always available;establishing a county-wide school resource officer (SRO); and creating a “cadet” program for local youths interested in helping law enforcement and community members; adding a second drug recognition expert (DRE) to the department.
Newton also said he would not look into re-opening the county jail, as both Holmes and Gibbs have suggested, saying the state was not interested in spending money on such an additional resource. The Addison County Sheriff’s Department currently transports prisoners to lock-ups in either Rutland or Chittenden counties.
Ron Holmes
As Addison County high bailiff, Ron Holmes has the power to arrest the sheriff if such an action were ever warranted, but he’s never been called to do so, but he is running for the office to which he served as a deputy for 25 years. He was laid off from the sheriff’s department about five years ago during a period in which the department was downsizing.
It’s Holmes’ second attempt for the position, as he ran against Sheriff Don Keeler as a write-in candidate in 2014.
Holmes is a lifelong Addison County resident and has resided in Middlebury since 1985. His 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 — in 1988 when he landed a job with then-Sheriff Jim Coons. 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.
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, 63, 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 in a recent interview in the July 19 issue of the Addison Independent.
As an addendum, a story in today’s paper cites a complaint being filed against Peter Newton, alleging a violation of the Hatch Act. Newton, Sheriff Don Keeler, as well as the sheriff department’s legal counsel, Middlebury attorney James Foley, all say the complaint is without grounds, but wanted to help make the complaint public so as to avoid any last-minute allegations and not have time to respond. Readers are encouraged to read that story by reporter Mike Donoghue and come to your own conclusions.
We have gathered the three interviews of the sheriff candidates in one place online, and encourage you to read those stories by reporter John Flowers at www.addisonindependent.com, Election 2018 stories.

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