FAIR HAVEN — The town’s police chief thinks one of his critics has gone too far.
Selectman Bob Richards has been an outspoken critic of some of the department’s policies and budget.
Most recently, Richards led an attempt during the annual budgeting process to trim funding for one of the town’s police officers, but his criticisms of the police department before now have been no secret.
In an interview leading up to Town Meeting Day, Richards said, “I don’t want to hurt the police department. I want it to be a different type of police department. I’d like to see the town have a discussion about a direction for the police department. The chief has a vision of where he wants the force. I have the opposite vision.”
But the issue has been simmering for a while and Police Chief William Humphries retained Rutland attorney John Paul Faignant, who said he sent a letter to Richards on behalf of Humphries.
Faignant said there is no lawsuit, but the letter is more to make “Mr. Richards aware of (Humphries’) view of Mr. Richard’s comments.”
Asked if the comments were considered slanderous, Faignant said, “There are several comments that he has made about Chief Humphries that could be construed that way. In my humble opinion, he has crossed the line of fair debate and that’s what our letter advises him of.”
Efforts to obtain a copy of the letter were unsuccessful.
Richards said that after consulting an attorney, he was advised not to talk about the issue.
Faignant said Humphries “is not a litigious guy.”
“But, by the same token, he’s got to stand up for his own rights,” Faignant said. “That’s really what he’s trying to accomplish. Richards’ comments reflect more than a philosophical difference with operation of police matters in town. Chief Humphries wants it fixed.”
Town Manager Herbert Durfee said he didn’t want to address the issue without consulting an attorney because it could become a personnel matter and a source of potential litigation.
“We just received it,” he said Thursday. “Because it’s so recent, I haven’t had a chance to talk to our attorney.”
Durfee said he had notified the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which carries Fair Haven’s insurance.
He said the board had not even been made fully aware of the issue. The board will gather Wednesday for an organizational meeting to elect a chairman and other officers, but Durfee didn’t expect the matter to come up in that short meeting.
It very well could be on the agenda, however, at the scheduled March 17 Select Board meeting, although that time and date could potentially change depending on what is decided at the organizational meeting.
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