Sheriff, commission square off in court

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AUBURN – A court decision over who has the power to hire deputies – the three-member Androscoggin County Commission or Sheriff Guy Desjardins – could come as early as Monday.

Superior Court Justice Joyce A. Wheeler listened to nearly three hours of arguments Friday from both sides, much of it focusing on the minutia of county personnel policies and union agreements.

“I have no doubt what the policies and procedures were, at least since January of 1995, when I was first hired,” Desjardins said after the hearing. “The question I have is why was this particular issue on hiring blocked so many times. That’s why we were here.”

Desjardins and the commission have fought bitterly since February, when the sheriff first tried to hire a night-time patrol deputy, a job that was funded by the county budget committee.

For months, the commission blocked the hiring, refusing to create the position. Finally, Desjardins hired someone anyway, forwarding his candidate, patrol officer Maurice Drouin of the Livermore Falls Police Department, to the commission at the end of May.

Though the commission voted to create the job a few days later, it declined to acknowledge that a candidate had ever been forwarded and demanded that Desjardins start the search process anew.

Instead, he sued.

“The sheriff feels very strongly and is very determined to demonstrate that he has the power to circumvent the procedures that have been followed for 25-plus years for filling vacancies,” said Bryan Dench, attorney for the commission.

For more than an hour, Dench questioned County Clerk Patricia Fournier about the past six months of personnel changes in the sheriff’s department, detailing how the sheriff followed long-held policy again and again, though not on this issue.

“The issue kept getting tabled and tabled and tabled,” Desjardins said. “I wasn’t allowed to post the position.”

Desjardins’ attorney argued that he should have been able to hire his choice for a funded position, whether or not he followed the commission’s meticulous procedures.

Those procedures aren’t law, argued Jonathan Berry.

Some laws go back to the days when a sheriff might create a posse to chase down a fleeing crook, Berry said. There wasn’t time to wait for the next commission meeting.

“He’s not going to stop in the middle of a saloon and yell, ‘I need to talk to my county commissioners,’ ” Berry argued.

Desjardins remained optimistic.

“I have faith in the system, and I want the system to play out,” he said.

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