NEWFANE—The news came on April Fools’ Day, but it was not a joke: Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark announced his retirement, effective June 30.
Clark, first elected in 2006, was starting his fourth term.
In his April 1 public retirement letter, he said the decision “follows much discussion with family, colleagues, and friends.”
Clark said his wife of 35 years, Bonnie, has been working in North Carolina the past 18 months “and we are both looking forward to again sharing the same roof.”
“That being said, this has been a tough decision for me,” he continued.
Although it is up to Vermont Gov. Phil Scott to appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of Clark’s term, the sheriff has already put in an endorsement for the person he supports: Capt. Mark Anderson, the department’s current second-in-command.
Anderson started out with the Sheriff’s Department in 2004 and has served in many roles with the Department. He was promoted to captain in 2017.
Anderson “has worked closely with me for many years and already handles many of the day-to-day operational duties,” Clark said. “I am confident [Scott] could not improve on Capt. Anderson.”
Legacy of service
Clark has had a long career of service to his country, and to Windham County.
He enlisted in the Air Force in 1983 and was on active duty as an aircraft mechanic until 1990, when he joined the Vermont Air National Guard, serving as a security officer at Burlington International Airport.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., Clark joined the Vermont Army National Guard in 2002 as a commissioned officer. He did a tour of duty with an engineering battalion in Afghanistan in 2010 and retired from the Army National Guard in 2012, ending more than 20 years of military service.
Clark’s law-enforcement career stretches over three decades.
He started out a full-time patrol officer with the Dover Police, serving from 1991 to 1996. He spent one year as a Vermont State Trooper before returning to the Dover Police in 1997.
In 2000, he joined the Bellows Falls Police and quickly was promoted to sergeant and second-in-command of the force. He served as chief of police from 2003 to 2007, before taking over the Windham County Sheriff’s Department in 2007.
Clark inherited a department in financial shambles. In 2006, his predecessor, Sheila Prue, pleaded guilty to embezzlement, petty larceny, and neglect of duties after spending department money on family expenses.
Because of the unique arrangement of Vermont sheriff’s departments, each sheriff is responsible for generating sufficient revenue to run their respective department. Clark managed to rebuild relationships with area towns and put the department back in the black.
Still, it hasn’t been easy.
In 2016, Clark made the difficult decision to end a contract to provide court security in Windham County, because he said at the time his department was losing large sums of money.
In response to the announcement, State Rep. Mike Mrowicki of Putney, one of the towns serviced by the Sheriff’s Department, said in a public statement that Clark “opened the door to combine best business practices with a dependable public safety force.”
“Along the way, his bold move, utilizing Social Workers in Police Departments, opened the door for others to see how interrelated social work and police work are,” Mrowicki added.
Clark also championed a bold initiative, the Liberty Mill Justice Center, which would have retooled a 57,000-square-foot dormant factory in Bellows Falls into a state-of-the-art facility to address transitional housing for detainees awaiting trial and sentencing under oversight of the U.S. Marshals Service.
He also envisioned the facility as a place where monitoring, training programs, and support services could help those fulfilling the conditions of their release, particularly nonviolent offenders.
Clark ultimately dropped the project in the face of widespread public opposition to the plans.
A popular candidate
Clark won his first race in 2006 as a Democratic Party nominee, defeating Republican Terry Martin of Brattleboro. While on active duty in Afghanistan, he won his second election in absentia in 2010, picking up 72 percent of the vote and defeating William Manch of Vernon, the Republican nominee.
In 2014, Clark won 84 percent of the vote and was the nominee of both the Democratic and Republican parties, defeating Liberty Union candidate Tom Finnell of Brattleboro.
In 2018, facing no opponents, Clark received 99 percent of the vote.
In 2016, Clark spent time in the Brattleboro Retreat, voluntarily checking himself in for treatment to deal with depression and suicidal thoughts.
The following year, he went public with his struggles that he said accumulated over a lifetime in law enforcement and the military. He said he did so in the hope that others who have served in uniform and were also struggling with mental issues would also find the strength to ask for help.
“I can’t keep it private,” he told Vermont Public Radio in 2017. “I’m a public person; I think the public needs to know. But more importantly, by me going public, I can help others, to say it’s okay to get help.”