Sheriff, judges and prosecutor on county ballot
ADDISON COUNTY — There are rarely races here for the few elected posts in county government.
But this year is an exception.
Addison County voters on Tuesday, Nov. 6, will be asked to decide elections for sheriff, state’s attorney and assistant judge.
The impending retirement of Addison County Sheriff Don Keeler has generated a lot of interest in the position. Middlebury Democrat Peter Newton will face independent Kevin Gibbs of Bristol for the post.
Newton is currently a lieutenant with the department who has received Keeler’s endorsement. Newton defeated fellow Middlebury Democrat Ron Holmes in a primary runoff in August.
Certified as an advanced life support EMT, Newton worked for various emergency response organizations from 1990 to 2003, including 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.
In 2003, Newton began his law enforcement career, starting off as a Middlebury Police Department officer.
He joined the sheriff’s department in 2012, climbing the ladder from deputy to lieutenant.
Gibbs retired last year from the Bristol Police Department after a 31-year run, 25 of those years spent as chief. His overall career in public safety has spanned 39 years and included service as a part-time officer with Waterbury police (1984-1988), a Vermont Air National Guard police security specialist (1979-2001), and as an EMT with Northfield Ambulance (1980-1986).
If elected, Gibbs hopes expand the ACSD’s mission and services to include partnering with area schools to address truancy and school safety, expanding ACSD traffic patrols, partnering with towns on animal welfare issues, encouraging deputies to gain EMT certification, and exploring the possibility of providing a county jail for local use.
Newton wants, among other things, to add a police dog to the force to help deputies track missing persons and suspects and detect contraband, establish a county-wide school resource officer, create a “cadet” program for local youths interested in helping law enforcement and community members, and add a second drug recognition expert to the department staff.
Holmes, who lost the Democratic Primary, in recent weeks has said he is asking voters to write in his name on their ballots.
Incumbent Democrat Dennis Wygmans faces competition from independent Peter Bevere in the contest for Addison County State’s Attorney.
Wygmans joined the local state’s attorney’s office in 2013. He would work three years there as a deputy state’s attorney, prosecuting sex crimes and domestic violence cases.
In December of 2016, Wygmans left Addison County to become a deputy prosecutor in Chittenden County, taking on a variety of criminal cases. But Wygmans upon his departure had left the door open for a return to the Frank Mahady Courthouse in Middlebury. He applied for the county’s lead prosecutor job when then-State’s Attorney David Fenster was named to a Vermont Superior Court judgeship. Then-Gov. Peter Shumlin named Wygmans to the job in January of 2017.
He’s now asking voters for a four-year term.
Wygmans has been unapologetically tough when it comes to the harsh sentences he seeks for people he believes are a danger to others. But he’d like to see other punishment and restitution options for people he believes deserve more than occasional check-ins with a parole officer, but less than a jail term.
Wygmans recently teamed up with local attorneys and nonprofits to offer two gatherings at which Addison County residents could apply to have their criminal records cleared of past misdemeanor convictions.
Looking ahead, Wygmans will urge the state to invest in an on-call mental health provider for Addison County.
Bevere is the current chief deputy prosecutor in Rutland County.
He and his wife, Kelly, have lived in Middlebury since 2003. Both are Middlebury College graduates. Kelly Bevere is an assistant athletic director at her alma mater and is in her 13th season as head coach of its softball team.
Peter Bevere graduated from the New England School of Law in Boston in 2001. His first job out of law school was as an assistant district attorney with the Cape & Islands DA’s office. After two years in the role, he followed Kelly to Middlebury after she landed her job at the college.
His first job in Vermont was as an attorney with Rutland-based Meub Associates, where he did his clerkship requirement for admission to the Vermont Bar. He quickly moved on to the role of domestic violence prosecutor for the Chittenden County State’s Attorneys office. After three years in that job, he transitioned back to private practice, as an associate with Middlebury-based English, Carroll & Boe.
In 2011, Bevere decided to return to prosecuting. He joined the Rutland County State’s Attorney’s Office, where he’s been ever since.
Now he wants to be a prosecutor closer to home.
His stated priorities for the job include fostering a broader working relationship between the state’s attorney’s office and its community partners in dealing with offenders and victims of domestic violence.
If elected, Bevere plans to have a member of his staff “work very closely” with the Addison County Unit for Special Investigations and with local police departments.
While he believes the court system should help place drug-addicted offenders on a path to recovery, he vowed to push for tough sentences for those convicted of selling drugs in the county.
Four candidates are vying for two positions. They include Republicans Alice George and Doug Tolles, and Democrats Jacqueline McLean and Patricia Ross.
George is running for re-election; her colleague, Assistant Judge Irene Poole, is not on the ballot this year.
Side judges sit with the presiding judge to hear civil and family court cases in the state’s 14 counties. They also have administrative duties, such as appointing the county clerk, treasurer and notaries public. They manage the courthouse and prepare the county budget. They earn a salary for their administrative duties, paid by the county, and a per diem income for their judicial duties, paid by the state.
The other two county posts on the ballot this year involve probate judge and high bailiff. Judge Eleanor “Misse” Smith and High Bailiff Charles Clark Jr. are unchallenged.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].