Mendon Town Office open by appointment only

Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 11:21 PM EDT
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MENDON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Mendon Town Offices are open by appointment only until further notice. Select board members say the decision was made to protect town officials who have been dealing with an uptick in unruly behavior.

It’s been nearly one month since the Mendon Selectboard made that decision. Town officials say service hasn’t been lacking, but they’re looking for a better solution.

A note posted on the town’s website says in part: “The Town is frequently encountering person(s) coming into the office who are very disruptive, with tirades sometimes lasting as long as 30 to 45 minutes, and occasionally coming into the office twice in the same day. These persons(s) involved are using profanity, yelling, making false accusations and derogatory remarks against office staff and community members.”

Unfortunately, the issue isn’t new, just escalating. Last fall, a select board member even resigned because of disruptive behavior at meetings.

Mendon’s State Rep. Jim Harrison says it’s situations like these that push people out of public service, but it’s not an issue that can just be legislated away.

“You have to be careful you don’t pass laws that infringe on one’s freedom of speech, but it’s not unlimited,” Harrison said. “You certainly can’t go around threatening people.”

Rutland County Sheriff David Fox says they’ve responded to Mendon’s Town Office twice in the past year, once last October and more recently at the end of February. Fox and Rutland County State’s Attorney Ian Sullivan have met with town officials, but there’s never been an active case regarding the incidents.

“There’s a measure of due process in order for someone to be issued a no-trespass order from a public space that’s generally accessible,” Sullivan said. “Speech and expressive conduct enjoy a wide variety of legal protections, but it’s only when speech and expressive conduct cross into areas like true threats.”

Vermont League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Ted Brady says this is the first he’s heard of an office closing due to safety concerns, but it’s not totally surprising.

“We’re living in a difficult time where safety is a primary concern,” Brady said. “You have to worry about active shooter training. You have to worry about creating a safe environment for your employees.”

Brady cited a recent study, showing eight out of 10 municipal officials nationwide have reported being verbally or physically attacked. He says Mendon is doing the right thing by prioritizing safety and involving an attorney.

“I hope Vermonters know that there’s more than 1,000 public officials out there doing the work of the people,” Brady said. “They don’t do it for the glory. They don’t do it for the pay. They do it because they’re civic-minded individuals working to give back to the community.”

Town officials tell me they have a meeting with their attorney this week to figure out what’s next. Should the office fully reopen, they’ll post an update on Facebook and Front Porch Forum.