Rep. Gina Galfetti's Floor Report

Vermont needs to trust the voters to choose their sheriffs

By Rep. Gina Galfetti

You can kill a mosquito with a sledge hammer.  But should you?

Though the Constitution says precious little about them, sheriffs in Vermont are constitutional officers.  Article 2, Section 50 provides:

Sheriffs shall be elected by the voters of their respective districts as established by law.  Their term of office shall be four years and shall commence on the first day of February next after their election.

Rep. Gina Galfetti

And Section 53 reads:

The manner and certification of election and filling of vacancies in the offices of Assistant Judges, Sheriffs, State’s Attorneys, Judges of Probate, and Justices of the Peace shall be as established by law.

That’s it!  Nothing about the duties of sheriffs, their compensation, or their ability to do the job.  Everything else is left to the discretion and supervision of the legislature, which, in the past, has made reasonable provision for the sheriffs to fulfil their duties.  The “districts” referred to above turn out to be the fourteen counties, which, in effect, makes sheriffs county officers.  Since they are county officers, it follows that the counties are left to provide office space for their sheriffs and to provide for such jail facilities as the respective counties deem necessary.

The duties of the sheriffs are assumed to be those which the sheriff had under the English common law—primarily law enforcement and service of legal process.  In addition to these powers, the legislature has added the duty to transport prisoners to state correction facilities in various parts of the state.  County jails are now mostly just temporary holding facilities.

The base salary of sheriffs—set by the legislature—compares unfavorably with the salaries of a number of state police officers.  The state appropriates nothing for the ongoing expenses of a sheriff’s office; in Washington County, the county does contribute about $250,000.00 per year for operating costs.  The  sheriff is responsible for everything else, including uniforms, vehicles, training, equipment, legal support, etc. One expense which might not generally be considered is the cost of professional malpractice insurance, since the sheriff is personally liable for the misdeeds of his deputies!  No wonder that sheriffs are careful about whom they hire and consequently find it difficult to hire and retain qualified staff!

To compensate sheriffs for their base salaries and for all remaining operational expenses, sheriffs enter into contract services with municipalities that have no police force of their own and with private companies requiring police services, such as highway construction firms and some entertainment venues that attract large crowds.  Sheriffs are permitted to retain up to five percent of the income from these contracts, which can be used at their discretion; the sheriffs can spend it on such things as additional equipment or training for their department or salary increases for their deputies, or they may even retain the entire five percent for themselves, though few do that.

These arrangements have worked satisfactorily for many years, but recently a number of actions that some might consider abuses have caused fresh attention to be drawn to the sheriffs.  The recently elected sheriff in Franklin County has been accused of assaulting a prisoner in custody and will likely stand trial despite his position as sheriff.  The former sheriff in Bennington County was absent from Vermont for a large part of his last year in office; he has now moved to Tennessee.  In his last days as sheriff, the former sheriff in Caledonia County used $400,000.00 of accumulated proceeds from contracts to give himself and his deputies bonuses.  And having been defeated for re-election, the former sheriff in Orange County virtually stripped his office before his term ran out, leaving his successor with a mostly non-functioning department.  The legislature has taken notice.

The question is easy: How do you fix problems like these?  The answer is more difficult.  Assaulting another person, even a prisoner  (if that is what was done, which will likely be decided by a jury) is already illegal; I don’t know that another law is needed.  I suppose the law could require sheriffs to be physically on the job a certain percentage of the time, otherwise forfeit some salary or perhaps forfeit the office.  As to the bonuses, one person might think they were excessive (I don’t know the individual amounts), while others might think they were entirely reasonable.  And how one writes a law that would effectively require a defeated candidate to cooperate in the orderly transition of power beats me—perhaps ask Donald Trump?

Unfortunately, the need to find reasonable and workable solutions to these purported problems does not constrain the tendency of this present legislature to “do something—even if it’s wrong!”

On Tuesday, the Senate Government Operations Committee voted out and sent to the Appropriations Committee bill number S.17.  It contains a number of provisions.  First; it would still allow sheriffs to keep up to five percent of the proceeds of contracts, but those funds could not be used for salaries; but a new, nine-member committee to be known as the “Sheriffs’ Departments Oversight Task Force” is created to study, among a list of other things, “creating a sustainable funding model for sheriffs’ departments that is not based on contacts for services.”  The committee is mandated to report its recommendations for legislative action not later than November 15, 2023, and the committee is slated to be dissolved on July 1, 2024.  Meanwhile, it should be noted, that the compensation of sheriffs will be effectively cut until the legislature takes action, and there is no promise that the legislature will take any action at all to compensate sheriffs fairly.

Another provision of S.17 compels sheriffs to provide security services at state and county courthouses at a fixed rate of $51.00 per hour.  That covers overhead as well as salaries for the deputies who actually do the work.  I don’t know whether that’s a fair rate, but I do know that auto mechanics, appliance technicians, and even some house painters, charge more.  What I do know is that it is wrong for the state to compel someone to perform services and then to say “this is what we’re going to pay, and no more!”

But it gets worse: the bill also mandates that sheriffs “providing law enforcement services in the county in which an individual…has a relief from abuse order [in a domestic matter] shall have a duty to assist in the retrieval of personal belongings of the individual…from the individual’s residence.”  Furthermore, the sheriff is expressly prohibited from seeking a fee for that service!  Whew!  I thought that we passed a constitutional amendment just last November prohibiting slave labor!

There are several other provisions of this overkill of a bill.  It requires sheriffs to account for all of their time; I don’t know any other elected official who is required to keep a time sheet—certainly not legislators!  The bill provides that as a sheriff prepares to leave office, voluntarily or involuntarily, all of that sheriff’s office disbursements must be co-signed by the side judges of the county.  These provisions treat elected officials like children!

The bill also abolishes an existing committee known simply enough as the Sheriffs’ Executive Committee.  But it goes on to give the now-abolished Sheriffs’ Executive Committee authority to deal with conflicts of interest.  One wonders how closely the senators who voted for this bill actually read it.

Without doubt, there have been some problems among sheriffs lately.  But this bill goes way too far in trying to apply a legislative sledge hammer to what is primarily a human problem.   What it does do—and does very effectively—is demonstrate a profound hostility toward sheriffs on the part of a few senators!  

There are a few good parts to this bill (very few), such as mandating a code of ethics for sheriffs.  Beyond that, I would prefer to trust the voters to choose their sheriffs more carefully than they have done in some cases in the past. 

Gina Galfetti is a Representative for the Washington/Orange District and can be contacted at:

802.461.3520 or

10 replies »

  1. “…trust the voters…” yes…if only, That’s the value we need to resurrect among our legislators.

  2. So Government in control of the Sheriff’s department, what can possibly go wrong with that.

    • Based on legislative actions for the last 20+ years, control of the Sheriff- and whom is the Sheriff by the legislature is a very disturbing concept.
      Imagine if baruth and krowinski had their private police force, the Sheriffs office for their bidding. nancy pelosi attempted such a thing with her remote Capitol Police offices… Put simply, legislative control of the Sheriff is tantamount to Germany’s Brown Shirts of the 1930’s.
      By Vermont’s constitution, the executive branch handles law enforcement and an independent Sheriff works just fine.

  3. You need to pay more attention to who was obfuscating the peaceful transition of power on Jan 6, because it wasn’t President Trump. Antifa was talking about false flagging the Stop the Steal protest from day one of its announcement, months ahead of time. The FBI still refuses to say how many agents were involved, but they did admit to having numerous informants in top positions of several of the groups alleged to have been involved, meaning they could have stopped it. Pelosi and Schumer obfuscated Trump’s request for greater security, including the National Guard. The recent release of 42,000 hours of footage from Jan 6, by House Speaker McCarthy dispels numerous media lies about that day, and one certainly wonders if that’s precisely why the Democrats refused to release it. Who exactly is Ray Epps and why hasn’t he been thrown into solitary confinement without trial like the others? Last, but not least, Trump told people to protest peacefully, and patriotically. But the Capitol police had already started tossing flash grenades into the crowd. All of which stopped several members of Congress from presenting very real questions and objections about the election during the certification by allowing Pelosi to suspend it and hold an emergency session later with limited protocols. Why don’t you ask her about it instead?

    • I appreciate your opinion on the events of Jan 6th, however, the article I wrote was specifically discussing local fair elections in Vermont. It is important that we focus on improving and ensuring fair elections at all levels of government, not just the federal level. The issue at hand is not about assigning blame for the events of Jan 6th, but rather promoting democracy and ensuring that all eligible voters have equal access to the polls and that their votes are counted accurately. Let us focus on finding solutions to improve our local electoral process and strengthen our democracy rather than pointing fingers and playing the blame game.

      • “And how one writes a law that would effectively require a defeated candidate to cooperate in the orderly transition of power beats me—perhaps ask Donald Trump?”

        I didn’t bring it up.

      • It is NOT opinion that the 2020 elections were stolen. Better yet, it was the over throw of the U.S. government. Federally and in EVERY STATE. Just like the 2022 election stolen yet again. Your cavalier effort to invalidate that reality is a typical progressive move. But too many of us know that truth.
        How many more years are Vermonters going to pretend not to know that it is eerily coincidental that for how many elections votes were all “counted” (SELECTED) in just TWENTY MINUTES?!?! And yes, I have been paying attention that closely for a lot of years now.
        And PLEASE, stop the “our democracy” blather. WE are a Representative Republic.

    • I agree. All the lies and dirty, dirty money runs from DC to Montpelier. Until the corrpution is addressed and prosecuted (removing the Soros-funded despots,) nothing will change here or in many other States. As it stands now, our State is captured territory. It is not about political parties. It is about being sold out to foreign interests. The sooner people grasp the gravity of what is really going on, the better. Otherwise, expect more rounds of gut punches and losses never imagined. The despots under the Golden Dome are playing a very dangerous game and the walls are, indeed, closing in on them and will fall upon them. Declare it and decree it.

      • I believe the OP above misses the comment point. Vermont is as the Progressive (fascist) Federal Government goes. Vermont is a Federal Welfare state. They promote the removal of industry and are all about the progressive confiscation of our children, our guns, our home and if they could, our lives. No sir, you are mistaken, it is all connected and your comment reply is nothing more than your progressiveness looking down your nose at people who actually see a bigger picture than you.
        No you cannot change a mind by belittling their opinion just because it does not conform with your twisted way of thinking. You use dog whistle words of “fair elections” and “democracy”. We do not live in a democracy, we live both federally and state wise as a REPUBLIC.
        Please explain how “fair ” things are when all kinds of issues have been discover, that money’s were put into the hands of those who RAN things here in VT via Zuck bucks and Soros money and FTX scam money, just to name a few. That all the state ballots were counted 20 minutes after polls closed. Really, have you seen how old our poll workers are? How about when asked to provide voter info that is publicly available the Sec of State Condos refused. ( As you progressives say if nothing is wrong, what are you trying to hide?) You live in a delusional world of fascist progressives( sorry I repeat myself). This all happened about 100yrs ago and it did not end well for them either. Just ask Hitler.

  4. The legislature is tinkering with the management of constitutionally elected county officials. The voters should tinker with actually removing these rulers, not representatives. I wonder how this group of elite progressives would like a commission of citizens watching over their every move they make as a lawmaker? Now, that is something I could support. What is becoming crystal clear is that these new overlords can’t stand the VT constitution and pay no attention to it in their drive to control everything that moves, stands still or doesn’t yet exist. Thank a democrat for the chaos, debt and misery they have caused on our Constitution, our customs and the freedoms of the people of Vermont.