Local government

Vergennes police chief Merkel retires, amid “continuing and unwarranted disrespect”

By Guy Page

Citing “the continued and unwarranted disrespect and treatment of myself and the Vergennes Police Department,” Vergennes Chief of Police George Merkel announced yesterday, August 23 he will retire on October 31, more than two years earlier than planned. 

Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel

Vergennes, proud of its title as both the first and the smallest city in Vermont, was incorporated in 1788. “Much like it was in the old days, the 1897 City Hall and Vergennes Opera House is the center of Vergennes’ business and cultural life. Beautifully restored and acoustically superb, the Opera House presents a year-round schedule of music, theater and film,” the Vermont Vacation website says. “City Park, graced by stately shade trees, hosts summer band concerts; outdoor markets; and community festivals.”

But Vergennes has had its share of civic tumult in recent years. The outspoken Chief Merkel has been in the middle of some the uproar – often as a lightning rod of others’ criticism.

Merkel was appointed Chief of Police in April, 1997. His decision to retire comes two year and two days after the Vermont Attorney General’s Office on August 21, 2020 cleared Merkel of fraud allegations regarding overtime payments from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP). It declined to prosecute Chief Merkel for false reporting “as there is no evidence to suggest that Chief Merkel acted with intent to defraud the GHSP.” 

In reaching this decision, the Office reviewed all of the materials provided by the Vermont State Police (VSP), who conducted the investigation, the AG’s office said. The allegation of false reporting is an allegation of criminal fraud. At the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council’s request, VSP investigated allegations of false reporting of overtime hours by Chief Merkel.

A two-year lookback of all overtime requests from all sources, including GHSP, claimed by Chief Merkel from June 1, 2018, through June of 2020, revealed discrepancies on three separate occasions for a total of 15 hours of overtime. The discrepancies appear to be clerical mistakes. The investigation revealed that, while there are some discrepancies with some GHSP Officer Activity and Time Reports submitted by Chief Merkel, there is no evidence that Chief Merkel had an intent to defraud the GHSP program. Any hour of overtime paid through GHSP corresponded with actual highway safety-related activity undertaken by Chief Merkel within the relevant timeframe.

The allegations came from Addison County Sheriff Peter Newton, who has since been charged with domestic violence and is under pressure to resign. Newton continued accusations against Merkel even after the AG decision. After the decision was released, Merkel – an outspoken person who as one-time president of the Vermont Assocation of the Chiefs of Police often testified at the Vermont State House on police-related legislation – responded with an emphatic email to Vergennes residents (as reported by VTDigger):

“I am sorry the City of Vergennes and the Vergennes Police Department has been the subject of such baseless, false, and scathing accusations. The people of the City of Vergennes and its police department did not deserve this, nor did I or my family.”

A review of City Council minutes from this summer and spring show a heightened desire for oversight of the police department. At a May City Council meeting, the City Manager discussed the possible creation of a Police Citizen Review Board. In July, city councilors insisted that bond payments for the new police station come out of the police department budget. There was pushback over paying a part-time administrator to relieve patrol officers of some administrative duties, a recommendation made by an outside police consultant. 

Earlier this year, an International Association of Chiefs of Police onsite study determined “Vergennes Police Department is a well-trained and well-organized department, and they generally enjoy a good relationship with the community. This was not always the case, but the department has put in considerable work to emerge from the troubles of the early 2000s…..Vergennes is a safe community with little serious crime, and the majority of calls for service are for quality-of-life issues and traffic incidents.”

The report recommended that, in light of budget restrictions and relatively low crime, the city hire a part-time administrator to lighten the administrative load on police officers. 

Merkel’s August 23 letter is addressed to City Manager Ronald Redmond, Vergennes City Mayor Matthew Chabot, Senior Alderman Dickie Austin, Alderman Mel Hawley, Alderman lan Huizenga, Alderwoman Zoe Kaslow, Alderwoman Jill Murray-Killon, Alderwoman Susan Rakowski. 

Titled “Notice of Retirement,” Merkel’s letter reads:

“As some of you know, I had planned to retire on my anniversary date of 30 November 2024, however, due to the events of the past four years, the continued and unwarranted disrespect and treatment of myself and the Vergennes Police Department, and the resulting effects on the health of myself and my family, I hereby submit my notice of retirement effective 31 October 2022. 

“I will greatly miss many of the members of the community of the City of Vergennes, with whom I have developed wonderful partnerships, and together we bettered our community. I love my “Little City” and I would like to think I, along with my officers, did our very best to protect and serve the citizens of Vergennes. I thank the people of Vergennes for the opportunity to have served them as their Chief of Police for the past thirteen years.”

The letter was forwarded to Vermont Daily Chronicle by an outraged Vergennes resident. “Our City Council, with the exception of maybe two counselors, did absolutely nothing to support our police department,” the Vergennes resident said.

Categories: Local government

16 replies »

  1. As I’ve said: What is wrong is now right & vice versa – we are living amidst what are sure signs of demonic infestation.

    Would have sounded “zany” to me too a few years ago, but not any longer….when lawfulness is criminal, when the entire female gender is being vanquished, (see the most recent issue of “Teen Vogue” to see how females are now being referred to as “people without a prostate”) when houses of worship are being destroyed & desecrated to little outcry, when drug use & abuse is enabled and encouraged by the government, when children are taught men can menstruate & become pregnant, etc. etc. – we have a problem. A huge problem.

    Godspeed Chief and thank you for placing your life at risk for the rest of us; you and police officers everywhere are genuine heroes.

  2. It’s a sad day in deed when honest, respectable law enforcement officers are made to feel unwanted, and disrespected. Thank you for your service Chief Merkel. I wish you a long, happy, well deserved retirement.

  3. How sad to read of the resignation of Police Chief, George Merkel. What a loss to the City of Vergennes, to Vermont and to law enforcement. The article confirms what I know of him. He is a caring, loving, efficient and effective, no-nonsense, honest citizen and public servant. I have known this imposing man for years and from the beginning of our friendship knew that he was of the utmost quality who merits respect and trust.

    The vindictive and short-sighted words and actions of some have cost our society and it will be difficult if not impossible to find anyone of equal quality and integrity to replace him.

    Chief Merkel should hold higher office and should run for the highest office, the governorship of Vermont. What a perfect thing that would be for all of Vermont citizens.

    George, thank you for your friendship and service over these years. God bless you as you move to another chapter of your life!

  4. We will only get beyond this Twilight Zone when communities in Vermont come face to face with reaping what they have sown in terms of excoriating law enforcement. However, we may have already passed the tipping point.

  5. What has happened to the Middlebury Police Chief that wanted to hire illegals to be patrolmen? Talk about a mixed up state Vermont has become under progressive rule. Vermont will be like Burlington is now in less than 10 years if this madness continues.

  6. George is a man of fierce integrity and unquestionable loyalty. He is exactly what any town would hope for in a senior law enforcement leader. Fair, impartial, experienced and savvy. George has honorably served our Nation as a military officer and his community as a law enforcement professional. George is not a man who can be intimidated. For him to resign from a career he loved is an indictment of those who second guessed him and made spurious accusations. The real losers are the citizens of Vergennes. Is this what “reimagining” policing means? I’m not surprised that he is leaving on his terms. That’s how he has lived his life. God Speed, George. Enjoy your well earned retirement.

    • Dan thank you so much for your kind words. I will miss my “Little City” and my officer as they are my extended family, much the same as my brothers and sisters of the military. I did my best as the Chief of Police for the City of Vergennes and I would like to believe my officers and I have made it a better and safer place to live, work and visit.

  7. And the progressive drumbeat continues to destroy communities, people, children, law enforcement, government, elections, morality and education to name a few important ones. We all know evil exists and without good people to confront it, it flourishes. The voters are the only cure for this disease. I’ll probably be moving before the final flush. There’s no sense in trying to convert a progressive, they’re too far gone. Life here was never like this before the progressive invasion. I miss Vermont and I haven’t moved yet.

  8. I came to know Chief Merkel when I was a member of the House Judiciary Committee and he was a frequent witness on police matters. I have great respect for him, and I know the community of Vergennes will miss him. Others have said more eloquently than I what a great job he has done, so let me just say that I agree with them wholeheartedly.

  9. The Chief appeared before the Senate Government Operations Committee many times and I have nothing but the ultimate respect for him. You are losing a very valuable resource.

    Senator Brian Collamore
    Rutland District

  10. I posted this earlier but somehow it attributed it to “Anonymous”. I contacted Guy Page who gave me the OK to post it again to show my name. I am proud to know George and want people I know to know how I feel about him and I wanted him to know as well. So here it is again.

    “How sad to read of the resignation of Police Chief, George Merkel. What a loss to the City of Vergennes, to Vermont and to law enforcement. The article confirms what I know of him. He is a caring, loving, efficient and effective, no-nonsense, honest citizen and public servant. I have known this imposing man for years and from the beginning of our friendship knew that he was of the utmost quality who merits respect and trust.

    The vindictive and short-sighted words and actions of some have cost our society and it will be difficult if not impossible to find anyone of equal quality and integrity to replace him.

    Chief Merkel should hold higher office and should run for the highest office, the governorship of Vermont. What a perfect thing that would be for all of Vermont citizens.

    George, thank you for your friendship and service over these years. God bless you as you move to another chapter of your life!

  11. The short-sighted, self-serving action of several city councilors, the mayor, and the city manager that created the hostile work environment that resulted in the loss of our Chief of Police, constitutes a violation of their oath of office, dereliction of duty and office-discrediting behavior. They should tender their resignations immediately.

  12. It is with great sadness that I read the news of Chief Merkel’s retirement. Sadness but not surprise .There is so much disrespect and disdain a person can absorb . Vergennes may regret soon the loss of Chief Merkel’s dedication to law enforcement .Criminality always seeks a policing vacuum. With the absence of the hawk-eye and yet kind hearted Chief Merkel ,it may finds its way into Vergennes . Thank you for your service Chief.

  13. As a long time citizen of Vergennes, I was very saddened to hear of his retirement. He is a great man and had all my respect for the great job he has done for our city. So sad for how he and the PD have been treated.

  14. Chief George Merkel has been a standard bearer for law enforcement in Vermont for decades. His primary concern has been the safety and welfare of the citizens of the City of Vergennes and our State. I wish you the best on your next adventure. Thank your for service George! Sincerely Brian Dubie

  15. Please take your leadership onward and upward to a higher level Chief. Vermont sorely needs men like you.

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