Rutland County’s longtime sheriff, Stephen Benard, is stepping down next month, two years before his current term expires in 2022.
The Rutland County Sheriff’s Department, or RCSD, employs more than 40 people. About 35 are uniformed officers and almost 20 of them full-time.
Benard, whose last day as sheriff will be March 15, said he is keeping a vow to himself, in advance.
“I always promised myself, when I took the sheriff’s job, that if I came to work and was unhappy, I would write the governor a letter and resign. That hasn’t happened. I was as happy this morning walking through the door as I was the first day. But life changes,” he said.
Benard, 61, said police work has changed since he first entered the field in 1979.
“The biggest thing for me has been the chronic stress. The chronic, everyday, low-pressure stress and that causes health problems. I think eventually it causes you to become jaded when it comes to dealing with the public or dealing with employees. You just get to a point where enough is enough, and that’s where I’m at,” Benard said.
Benard emphasized that he still likes his job and considers everyone in the department a friend and a member of the family.
“We are a very, very, very close department, so it has nothing to do with that. It’s time. It’s time,” he said.
By email, Rebecca Kelley, communications director for Gov. Phil Scott, said Benard submitted his letter of resignation on Feb. 11.
“The governor will appoint a replacement and, as dictated by statute, we have requested recommendations from the Rutland County Republican Committee, as the sheriff previously ran as a Republican. We’ll await those names, and then begin our review, interview and vetting process to make a selection,” Kelley said.
Kelley said Scott’s office had been told there would be a meeting of the Rutland County Republican Committee, or RCRC, on Feb. 22 to finalize a candidate for sheriff and an open position as an associate judge.
Terry Burke, chairwoman of the RCRC, said the committee has already gotten interest.
“The RCRC is pleased to have received information from four area law-enforcement professionals who are interested in serving our county as sheriff. All are well respected in their communities, bring years of experience, and share concern for the upholding of laws and constitutional freedoms,” she said.
Benard has been sheriff since 2004 and with the RCSD for 30 years. He started his law-enforcement career in 1979 with a stint of about 18 months at the RCSD, then moved on to the Ludlow Police Department, where he spent 10 years, and then returned to the RCSD.
Like his successor will be, Benard was appointed to the position, after Sheriff Robert Elrick left the department to become the leader of the Vermont Police Academy.
If the RCRC has not nominated a successor for Benard, the interim sheriff would be, by statute, the high bailiff. In Rutland County, that position is held by Dave Fox, a captain at the RCSD.
Benard explained why he would be comfortable with that transition. He said he had been thinking about retiring when he turned 59.
“About five years ago, I brought the command staff together and kinda laid out my plans. I said, ‘Look, I’m not going to be here forever. It’s time for the command staff to step up and really learn the intricacies of the department. When I leave, I don’t want anybody here to miss a beat. I want things just to keep progressing,” he said.
Fox, who is also the chief deputy, has been making most of the decisions about the day-to-day operations of the department, according to Benard.
Benard said Fox is also one of the candidates whose interest will be reviewed by the RCRC later this month.
Benard said there were a number of accomplishments in which he took pride during his time with the RCSD. For instance, the department’s finances are better today than when Bernard first took office, which he attributed to changes like the RCSD now owning their headquarters on Grove Street.
Benard said he was also pleased that there were times over the years when people, some of whom he arrested, told him that his intervention helped them turn their lives around.
Benard, who said he was born on Baxter Street, said he plans to stay in Vermont after leaving the RCSD.