I would like to address the settlement with former police chief Aaron Noble. I am writing this as clearly and carefully as I can to give the fullest picture of the events, noting the causes, and what I think we need to do to prevent similar events in the future.

First, there are obviously things that the Shelburne Selectboard cannot disclose about circumstances of the settlement, because to do so would invite additional legal and financial risks to the town. This makes it difficult to fully explain the decisions we reached and why. This is also because to reach this settlement, we signed a non-disparagement agreement, and we intend to honor our agreement.

But here are some things to keep in mind. First, in Vermont, police officers are by state statute afforded a high level of job protection that is equivalent to tenure. It is extremely difficult to terminate an officer. You must have cause and demonstrating cause in the state of Vermont is extremely difficult.

The state has gone to great lengths to protect these jobs. You can do a little research online to verify this fact and it is sobering. Given these facts, we had to evaluate our situation very carefully, to weigh the risks and the costs and benefits of various possible actions.

In doing so, we concluded that this agreement was best for the Shelburne Police Department and for our town; that it was most likely to cost us the least and was most likely to yield the best possible outcome in both the short term and long term. That may be hard to believe, but that is the judgment we came to after looking long and hard at all the evidence.

But now we can now begin to repair, rebuild and reorient our police department and move forward. That is a good thing.

How did this happen? I am not offering excuses, but rather causes and there are several that should be noted.

First, and most obvious, is the pandemic, which has been extremely challenging for everyone, including our police department, fire and rescue and municipal operations. Town employees have been working very hard and putting in many hours to keep our town financially sound and operationally functional. While I think we have been successful overall, everyone was stretched thin and trying their best to deal with the challenges.

Second, policing in the state is experiencing its own crisis as well. Departments everywhere are losing officers who are retiring and leaving policing all together. In Shelburne, we have had to deal with the homeless housing issue, and we have had unnecessary difficulties in police union negotiations. The policing environment has been very challenging regardless of other issues and so a high-level of skill, competence and ability is necessary.

But I think it must be acknowledged that mistakes were made. It is not entirely clear to me how to weigh the other contributing factors, but in the end, there were actions that should have been taken and they were not. I will just note that we have said repeatedly that the town needs better human resource management practices and the selectboard and town manager are addressing this.

We are no longer a small town, and we must adapt to this fact. I believe that we are understaffed, and that our operations are in many instances inefficient and antiquated. We are now paying the price for that, because the adage is true: you get what you pay for.

You either pay for it upfront or you pay for it on the back end. If we want our municipal operations to deliver the high-level of services that we expect, then we need to provide the resources and the pay to match our aspirations.

By the way, we are very fortunate to have in this town many exceptional employees. Paul Goodrich was just featured in the news, rightly, for his exceptional dedication, work ethic and professionalism. There are many other employees whose names you may not be familiar with who have gone above and beyond during this pandemic to serve our town. I am so grateful for that.

But if you think about it, we should not have to rely so heavily on — or take for granted — these exceptional people, because they are, after all, exceptional, and therefore, rare. If not for these exceptional employees stepping up and serving our town with dedication and commitment through these past few years, we might be worse off.

But we should not have to rely on exceptionalism to keep our town running well. So, we have begun the process of a human resource audit to better understand how we can improve our municipal operations.

We are committed to understanding fully how and why we had to reach this settlement agreement. We are committed to understanding the causes, fixing the problems, and implementing the changes needed to ensure that it does not happen again.

We have begun that process and we are continuing to pursue answers and solutions so that it does not happen again.

Now, however, we have an opportunity to invest in a new chief of police, to rebuild our department for the future, which will take time, and to put this episode behind us.

And that is exciting.


Michael Ashooh is chair of the Shelburne Selectboard.

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