SHELBURNE — Some Shelburne residents are circulating petitions asking the Selectboard to consider removing Town Manager Joe Colangelo.
The push to circulate the petition, which has garnered 127 signatures, took shape last month. More than a dozen residents peppered the Selectboard during an Aug. 22 board meeting regarding former Police Chief James Warden’s suspension in July and subsequent retirement.
Twenty local businesses and residents are participating in the drive to ask for a special public meeting on Colangelo’s job status. VTDigger’s attempts to speak to local business owners regarding the petition were unsuccessful. Shelburne Meat & Fish Market and Aubuchon Hardware were approached about displaying the petition, but organizers were told company policies forbid displaying such documents.
Organizers of the movement declined to speak with VTDigger, citing concerns about retribution from Shelburne officials.
Sean Moran was a vocal critic at the Selectboard meeting about how Warden’s departure was handled. The chief, who led the department for 30 years, was suspended for three days in July, then retired in August. Warden and other Shelburne officials have remained tight-lipped about the departure. An official news release said he was leaving due to “health reasons.”
“The taxpayers have the right to know about the suspension and why it was thrown out,” Moran said. “The secrecy surrounding the police chief situation needs explanation.”
Colangelo started working for Shelburne as the town’s top executive in April 2014, having previously been Hinesburg town administrator. He declined to comment about the petition.
Selectboard Chair Gary von Stange also declined to comment on the call to remove Colangelo.
Nearly a month ago, Colangelo gave an interview to WCAX, noting concerns regarding the Police Department’s operation.
The town’s attorney, Brian P. Monaghan of Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC, didn’t return a call regarding the petition drive.
Warden’s daughter, Shannon Warden, wrote in an email that she and her family believe the suspension was unwarranted. “We assert that the suspension was completely unjustified and imposed without following the proper procedures. As part of our agreement with the town, the suspension has been rescinded, all references to it have been expunged from Jim’s personnel record, and he has been paid for the three days,” she said.
According to Shannon Warden, her father is teaching a dog obedience course for the Hinesburg Recreation Department.
Shelburne Town Clerk Diana Vachon said a petition must contain verified signatures of 5 percent of the town’s 6,076 registered voters — or roughly 300 people — to be accepted. Will Senning, director of elections in the secretary of state’s office, said the final decision whether to act on a submitted petition rests with a town’s selectboard. “A majority of the board has to vote against the petition in order for it to be rejected,” he said.
The residents don’t have an official name for their group, but they operate a public Facebook group called “Shelburne Strong.” Comments on the social media site as well as the town’s Front Porch Forum range from concern regarding how Colangelo does his job to disdain over how Warden’s departure was handled.
“He seems to be the Behind-the-Scene Police Chief and not the Town Manager,” wrote Carrie Campbell on the Facebook account said to be run by Shelburne Strong. “Too much control for one person. He is clearly not a team player.”
Jane Zenaty, a retired Burlington School District guidance counselor, wrote on Shelburne’s Front Porch Forum in late August that she is concerned about the tenor of the conversation in town regarding Colangelo and the Selectboard.
“I find myself really feeling uncomfortable with the petition that is being circulated to request a special select board meeting to consider Joe Colangelo’s removal,” Zenaty wrote on the media site. “I will start by saying that I have been working closely with Joe and other town officials for the last year regarding pedestrian safety and have experienced Joe to be supportive, helpful and responsive. I also want to say that his job is one I would never want to have. … I know that feelings are running high on this issue but I hope that any response to these thoughts are done in a respectful manner.”
Former Hinesburg Selectboard member Michael Bissonette, who sat on the governing panel during the time Colangelo worked locally, praised him as the town’s top executive. “He did well, and the town administrator job is difficult,” Bissonette said.