Public Safety

Caledonia sheriff gave himself and staff bonuses totaling $400,000 before stepping down

A Caledonia County Sheriff's Department cruiser as seen on the department's website.

Less than five months before stepping down, the sheriff of Caledonia County gave himself and his entire department bonuses amounting to $400,000, a routine audit has found.

The bonuses, which ranged from $1,359 to $41,112 for 16 people, didn’t violate any regulations. But that’s because the sheriff’s department doesn’t have a bonus policy in place — despite a directive in the Vermont Sheriffs’ Association Uniform Accounting Manual.

“How convenient,” State Auditor Doug Hoffer said in an interview.

“There was no violation per se,” he said. “It’s just an unusual event for bonuses of this magnitude and absence of policy. You have to wonder: Why were the amounts so high? And that’s up to the sheriff.”

In some cases, the bonuses exceeded the employees’ annual salaries, according to data released by the state auditor’s office. 

The bonuses were also unusual because they included enough money to cover the taxes, the auditor’s office said Monday in a memo to the Government Operations committees of both the Vermont House and Senate. 

It appears the bonuses were calculated with the after-tax amounts in mind, because the take-home payments were all round numbers, ranging from $1,000 to $20,000. 

Sheriff Dean Shatney, who didn’t seek reelection and whose term ends next week, didn’t respond to messages requesting an interview. His staff said he was away on Wednesday.

The bonuses were given out in September to 16 sheriff’s department employees, including Shatney himself, according to an auditor’s report last month by McSoley McCoy & Co., a firm the state government contracts with to audit all the sheriff’s departments.

Three of the 16 employees received bonuses of less than $9,000. The rest got at least $17,900, including five who received amounts in the $40,000 range, a Jan. 18 memo from the auditing firm to the state auditor’s office shows.

This “significant payroll adjustment” reduced the sheriff’s department’s cash balance by more than half at the end of fiscal year 2022, the memo reads. The fiscal year spans July 2021 to June 2022.

A data table in the memo lists the bonus each of the 16 people received, as well as how their bonuses compared with their salaries for fiscal year 2022. The names of the recipients were withheld, so it’s unclear how much the sheriff gave himself.

A data table from a Jan. 18 memo from the auditing firm to the state auditor’s office lists the bonus each of the 16 people received, as well as how their bonuses compared with their salaries for fiscal year 2022. Screenshot

“In some cases, the actual total of the bonus exceeded the annual salary of the individual employees, or came very close to it,” Vermont Deputy Auditor Tim Ashe told the state Senate Government Operations Committee on Tuesday, during a livestreamed hearing on a law proposing sheriff reforms.

At the top of the rate scale is an employee who received a bonus of $23,786. The auditing firm said that amounted to 2,119% of the person’s gross salary of $1,122 last fiscal year.

On the other end was someone whose bonus of $1,359 was 33% of their $4,140 gross salary last fiscal year. The median rate was around 83%.

Ashe said the sheriff referred to the additional pay as “salary adjustments,” but auditors consider “bonus” to be a more accurate term since the employees’ actual salaries were not changed.

McSoley McCoy flagged the bonuses as a “significant deficiency” in its December auditor’s report for the Caledonia County Sheriff’s Department. In an attached letter, the auditing firm said that, at a minimum, the department should have a policy that indicates the criteria for who is eligible to receive a bonus, how the amount is determined and when the bonus can be paid.

Sheriff Shatney responded with a corrective action plan, writing that the department will implement this fiscal year a bonus policy that aligns with the Vermont Sheriffs’ Association’s Uniform Accounting Manual.

The letter was signed by both Shatney and Sheriff-elect James Hemond, who currently serves as the sheriff’s chief deputy and holds the rank of captain.

Hemond declined to comment on the bonuses, referring questions to the sheriff. But Hemond said he’d be glad to discuss the matter after he takes the department’s helm on Feb. 1.

The state auditor’s office suggested that the Legislature’s Government Operations committees speak with the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs about establishing a consistent bonus policy for the sheriff’s departments.

McSoley McCoy, in its memo to the auditor’s office, recommended requiring that county assistant judges approve the bonus policy and sign off on bonuses greater than what’s prescribed in the policy. The firm also suggested that bonuses beyond 20% of a person’s “expected annual amount” receive approval from the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs.

Department officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The auditor’s office said that, although the bonuses were not covered by the audit period, McSoley McCoy noticed the payouts in its latest review of the sheriff’s department and noted it in its December report.

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Tiffany Tan

About Tiffany

Tiffany Tan is VTDigger's Southern Vermont reporter. Before joining VTDigger, she covered cops and courts for the Bennington Banner from 2018 to 2021. Prior to that, Tiffany worked for the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota and spent more than 10 years working for newspapers and television stations in Manila, Singapore and Beijing.


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