Newton cleared in election complaint
MIDDLEBURY — An election complaint filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel about Peter Newton, the Democratic and Republican nominee for Addison County Sheriff, has been closed with no action being taken.
“Because he is not currently covered by the Hatch Act and we have no evidence that his violation was knowing and willful, we have decided to close our file without further action,” Erica S. Hamrick, deputy chief in the Office of Special Counsel wrote about Newton.
Hamrick wrote that the only violation she found in all the records she reviewed was Newton, who is a lieutenant in the Addison County Sheriff’s Department, had photographs of himself in his sheriff’s department uniform on his campaign Facebook page.
Hamrick’s email announcing no action was dated Sept. 26, but the email was only shared with the Addison Independent on Sunday anonymously by “A Concerned Citizen.” The anonymous tipster, who filed the Newton complaint, declined to identify himself or herself. The complainant also failed to respond to a return email from the reporter requesting a phone call. The tipster’s name and address on Hamrick’s email to the tipster was blacked out.
In early August the Addison Independent first reported the federal investigation when Newton and current Addison County Sheriff Don Keeler revealed the anonymous complaint. Keeler’s office was asked by federal officials to turn over payroll records. Both said they expected somebody would eventually try a smear tactic just before Election Day.
Part of the complaint centered on Newton’s assignment to the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office to help with domestic abuse and sex crime investigations. Half of Newton’s salary was paid by a federal grant won by the sheriff’s office, Keeler has said. He said the other half was funded through the sheriff’s department budget.
Keeler and Newton agreed that to avoid any complaints or questions the lieutenant should step away from the federal grant on May 25 as he formally began his campaign. Keeler said he assigned Newton to other administrative duties in the county sheriff’s office. Newton had been assigned to the prosecutor’s office through the grant since April 2015.
Keeler said Monday night that he recently assigned another deputy from his department, Sgt. Brent Newton, a former Vergennes police officer, to fill the slot working with the three prosecutors in the state’s attorney’s office.
The two Newtons are unrelated, Keeler said.
Under the so-called Hatch Act, certain workers paid by federal funds are prohibited from holding political office and doing some kinds of political activity.
Newton agreed to provide the Addison Independent a copy of a personal email he received from Hamrick indicating no charges would be filed and the case was closed. It is essentially the same two-page email the complainant received with a few words changed — mostly pronouns.
Newton, who has worked for the sheriff’s department for six years and Middlebury police for 10 years is in a three-way race for county sheriff on Tuesday in the General Election.
Newton defeated Ron Holmes of Middlebury 2,948 to 1,423 in the Democratic Primary in August. Newton also won the Republican endorsement that day by collecting 276 write-in votes from party members. Holmes is continuing to run as a write-in candidate, while retired Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs has filed as an independent.
Meanwhile the Addison County Sheriff’s Department filed a federal lawsuit in Burlington saying the Office of Special Counsel had failed to properly respond to a Federal Freedom of Information Act request.
Middlebury lawyer James Foley, on behalf of the sheriff’s department, filed a request for public records from the Special Counsel in the investigation on July 12. As of Aug. 31, the office of Special Counsel had failed to respond and Foley filed the lawsuit seeking compliance with the records law.
Foley’s initial request centered on finding out what allegations had been made and who filed them, court records show. Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Torti, who works in Burlington, wrote in response that the office of Special Counsel is contesting the release of the records and wants the case dismissed.