Courts & Corrections

Coventry forces out town clerk

Coventry Selectboard
The Coventry Selectboard, June 8, 2017. Photo by Dan Schwartz/VTDigger

Coventry’s longstanding town clerk, treasurer and until recently delinquent tax collector lost her job Friday after she ran out of time to find a bond for an insurance policy to protect the public money she’s been accused of mishandling.

The town lost its insurance policy for Cynthia Diaz last month when its insurer paid out a nearly $500,000 claim. In the claim, the town said it was missing some $870,000. That accounts only for missing taxes, a portion of the more than $1.4 million in total an auditor recently said is missing.

The FBI and Vermont State Police are investigating Diaz. It’s not the first time she’s been the subject of criminal investigations.

In a meeting Monday, the Selectboard gave Diaz until Friday to find an application for a $2.5 million bond to finance a new insurance policy. State law mandates all town officers who handle money be insured in case it disappears.

At noon Friday, Diaz delivered a manila envelope to the Selectboard offices. Instead of the bond application she needed to keep the job she’s held for 13 years, inside was a copy of a complaint.

“On May 24th 2017,” she wrote, “the Coventry Select Board met for a Special Meeting without properly warning this meeting.”

In that meeting, the Selectboard had voted unanimously to start the 10-business-day countdown for Diaz to find a bond. But because the Selectboard violated Vermont’s Open Meeting Law, its actions during the meeting are invalidated, Diaz claims.

“In fact the ten days begin once I am given notice from a properly warned meeting of the Coventry Select Board,” she wrote. “At which time I will provide bond information to the Board.”

Cynthia Diaz
Cynthia Diaz, the Coventry town clerk and treasurer, in her office at the Coventry Community Center. Photo by John Lazenby

Diaz did not attend the meeting or return a call placed to her cell phone Friday afternoon.

Selectboard Chairman Mike Marcotte summarized the complaint to about 20 Coventry residents gathered in the Community Center’s basketball court. He said the town had given notice of the meeting properly and Diaz’s complaint was unfounded.

“She doesn’t have a job here any longer,” he said. “She won’t be allowed here in the office.”

The town has three options for replacing its clerk and treasurer, which are separate offices, he said. The Selectboard can appoint replacements to take over until Town Meeting Day on March 6, 2018. It can call a special town meeting to elect new officers. Or, he said, residents can petition the Selectboard to hold a special session to elect replacements.

After the meeting, Marcotte replaced the deadbolt on the door to the office where Diaz had worked hours earlier. The Selectboard will discuss other steps to transition Diaz out – recovering town files, for instance, and copying computer passwords – at its regular meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, he said.

Diaz has said the Selectboard is conducting a witch hunt, but board members are quick to say they did not fire Diaz. State law says an uninsured public official has ten days to get insured. If they fail – although state officials say the law has never been tested – their office will be “declared vacant.”

“By virtue of the law,” Marcotte said, “her office is vacant. We didn’t have to force her out.”

Correction. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described documents Cynthia Diaz delivered to the Selectboard as a lawsuit. The documents are in fact a complaint.

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