Ex-Thetford Police Chief Blasts Selectboard on Interim Hiring

From left, Thetford Police Sgt. Bridget Tweedie, Vermont State Trooper Andrew Collier and Jim Lanctot, who was then Thetford's police chief, at the scene of a shooting incident in Thetford in 2010. 

Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

From left, Thetford Police Sgt. Bridget Tweedie, Vermont State Trooper Andrew Collier and Jim Lanctot, who was then Thetford's police chief, at the scene of a shooting incident in Thetford in 2010. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

Thetford — A strongly worded email from former police chief Jim Lanctot to the townwide email Listserv sheds light not just on his lingering resentment toward the Selectboard but on a debate about the way the police department conducts its business.

Lanctot, a Thetford resident who left the department last month to operate the Pizza Loft restaurant, lambasted the board for how it hired an interim chief, writing that “another despicable decision has been made ... behind closed doors again.”

“There are many terrible decisions that have been made in the past four or five years, and this is right on track with the others,” Lanctot wrote in the post sent Thursday night. “I hope this terrible and downright sickening decision does not cost the town another dedicated and excellent employee.”

In the posting and in interviews, Lanctot also accused the board of wrongly passing over the police department’s long-time second-in-command, Sgt. Bridget Tweedie, who he said could have taken on the interim position with no training and at less expense.

“The board chose to spit on her instead,” Lanctot wrote.

Meanwhile, the Selectboard maintains that the decision to contract with the town of Norwich to hire Norwich Police Chief Doug Robinson as interim chief was properly done in executive session because it involved personnel and contracts — two of the exemptions allowed by the state law requiring open decision-making.

Thetford will pay Norwich at a rate of $75 an hour for Robinson’s services, including pay, benefits and administrative costs, for eight to 12 hours a week. Robinson will continue to work full-time in Norwich.

“Especially here where it is more of an operational thing … this person isn’t going to have a significant community role” because he will be largely overseeing administrative tasks and paperwork, said Selectman Donn Downey, who generally speaks for the board on police matters. “That didn’t seem appropriate to say, ‘Hey, public, what do you think?’ ”

Emails sent between Downey and Robinson on Friday and Saturday last week paint a picture of dissatisfaction over how the department was previously managed and Lanctot’s reaction to Robinson’s appointment as interim. In one message, Downey refers to Lanctot as appearing to be “bent out of shape” over the interim hiring process, a stark departure from Lanctot’s and Downey’s assertions last month that the two sides were parting ways on good terms.

Lanctot, who worked with the department for 11 years and was chief since 2006, acknowledged as much in an interview on Tuesday, questioning how Thetford officers could continue showing up to work for the Selectboard.

“Actually, I did work for those type of people, and that’s why I don’t come to work anymore,” he said.

Lanctot was making $60,445 annually when he stepped down, according to information from the town offices. His last day was June 6.

Robinson is paid $35.89 an hour as the Norwich chief.

In one of the emails Robinson sent to Downey, he noted that the Thetford Police Department appears to be behind on paperwork and that officers need to get out of the office more.

Robinson noted that Tweedie made no traffic stops nor written tickets in the past two months, as of Friday, which he called “unacceptable.”

During that time frame, another officer, Stuart Rogers, the son of the Selectboard chairman by the same name, made 20 traffic stops and issued six tickets, which Robinson characterized as “satisfactory but could be more.”

The emails, which were provided on Monday at the Valley News’ request, show that Thetford has responded to roughly 250 complaints or “law incidents” since the start of the year, and “of those 250, (about) 114 of them are incomplete, most of them have nothing written in them, some as old as January of this year,” Robinson wrote.

Downey responded to Robinson that the stats were “enlightening” but there were “not really any surprises.”

On Tuesday, Lanctot called the incident reports a “style thing,” saying “you can go in and close out every case or you can leave them active and add more to them later on.”

In separate interviews, he and Tweedie disputed the characterizations of Tweedie’s work load. Lanctot said he had directed Tweedie to patrol back-roads, where traffic stops are less likely, in an effort to deter an increase in rural, day-time robberies that had been hitting the Upper Valley. He linked that to the number of burglaries that he said Thetford experienced in a year — eight — and how that was significantly fewer than some other towns in the area.

“As far as I’m concerned, Sgt. Tweedie was a model employee and did exactly what the chief at the time told her to do,” Lanctot said. “They’re lashing out at her for an email I wrote to the Listserv basically asking why there was an illegal meeting. They’re trying to throw a curveball and say … ‘oh, look, look, Sgt. Tweedie wasn’t doing her job.’ Well, bull-crap, she was doing her job.”

While making pizzas at the Pizza Loft Friday, Lanctot said the department had been set up and Tweedie had been trained to take over for Lanctot in any situation, including planned vacations, unexpected injuries or his departure.

Less than an hour earlier, several of the police department’s officers, including Tweedie, dined at the restaurant for lunch.

In an email, Tweedie wrote that she was forced to spend significant time in the office in the past two months for two reasons: to prepare for Lanctot’s departure, and to respond to a federal audit to make sure that the town didn’t lose access to federal records.

Lanctot called Downey a “creep” for bringing up Tweedie’s job performance during a public meeting Monday night.

“This is a single mom who just got hammered on by some creep last night and she’s just trying to do the best she can to support her child … and then this creep goes and buries her in public,” he said on Tuesday.

Downey said the board did not pass over Tweedie without consideration, saying that the board engaged in discussions with internal officers and outside agencies, such as the sheriff’s department.

Downey said the board decided not to hire Tweedie because of “complications in terms of negotiating this with the union. ...

“And regardless of how the former chief wants to portray it, that’s exactly the reason,” Downey said. He said he was limited in what he could discuss publicly.

When the board approached Robinson about sitting on a search committee for a permanent chief, Downey said, Robinson asked how the interim search was going and Downey told him the board was struggling.

At that point, Downey said, Robinson offered to help out and the contract was later negotiated between the elder Rogers, the board chairman, and Fulton, the Norwich town manager.

“Jim is portraying it like this Norwich money grab. This is a Norwich gesture of support,” Downey said. “They’re struggling themselves ... they’re short-staffed but they understand what it’s like to try to run a department.”

In a brief interview at the police department Friday, Tweedie confirmed that she had expressed interest in the interim chief position. There was no application process, she said, and she was not included in the discussion about hiring Robinson as chief.

She said that she was probably not interested in the permanent chief position. She had previously not given it much thought, she said.

She declined to discuss her feelings or the general feelings of the department and its relationship with the Selectboard.

The department has experienced some other tumult in the past year, including an unfair labor complaint filed by Thetford’s police union against the town last summer, alleging that Lanctot refused to talk to Officer Rogers. The complaint was ultimately dismissed by the Vermont Labor Relations Board following a mediation session, according to documents.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.