The Burlington Free Press (Vermont)
BYLINE: By, Mike Donoghue
The Vermont Attorney General’s Office is investigating unspecified complaints filed against longtime Vernon Town Clerk Sandy Harris as she prepares to run for the Selectboard on Tuesday.
“I have not done anything wrong that I know of. I would never hurt this town,” Harris told the Burlington Free Press on Sunday. Vernon, a community of about 2,000 people in Windham County, is the home of Vermont Yankee, a nuclear power plant.
“I welcome the investigation. I see it as an evaluation of my job,” said Harris, who described herself as “a fifth or sixth generation Vermonter.”
Attorney General William Sorrell confirmed the existence of the investigation after the Burlington Free Press received an email saying his office was investigating Harris.
“There was a referral to us. We have been conducting an investigation into a number of allegations. We are not saying the specific issues,” said Sorrell in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.
Harris does not serve as the town treasurer.
Detective Matt Raymond, who works for Sorrell, is heading the investigation. Vermont State Police were unaware of the complaint, Director Tom L’Esperance said Sunday.
Patty McDonnell, a member of the Selectboard, questioned the basis and timing of the the complaint and the leak.
McDonnell said the complaint was filed in January about the time it became known that Harris was running for the Selectboard and the leak came a few days before voters go to the polls.
“She is one of the most honest and forthright persons I have met,” said O’Donnell, who also served the town as a legislator and on the School Board.
McDonnell said she believes the complaint came from a “disgruntled town employee.”
Harris has been the town clerk for about 20 years and also serves as the vice chairwoman of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns Board.
Harris, who has one year left in her term as town clerk, is running for a three-year seat against Michael Coutemarche, the chairman of the Selectboard. Harris said she believes Coutemarche had nothing to do with filing the complaint.
“To my knowledge he was not involved. I can’t picture him doing it,” Harris said.
Coutemarche said Sunday that he is unhappy that his campaign might be unfairly dragged into the issue.
“I had absolutely nothing to do with the complaint, and it really upsets me. I found out on Friday. I don’t know what to say,” said Coutemarche, who has been on the board four years, two as chairman.
Harris said she looks forward to the results of the investigation.
“I am really glad they are doing it. I have never done anything deliberately against this town.” She said she might be able to learn from the findings.
“I’m always willing to learn,” she said.
O’Donnell said she was unaware of the complaint until Friday. She said the Selectboard had not discussed the issue at any public or closed-door meeting.
“This was as much a shock. I knew nothing about it,” O’Donnell said.
She said if a town employee had a concern it should be brought to the Selectboard first.
“Any department should come to us,” she said.
The three-year Harris-Coutemarche race is one of three for the Selectboard on Tuesday. One two-year seat is uncontested. A resignation has led to the availability of a second two-year seat, which has four people running.
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