July 25, 2021

Ex-deputy gets 5 months back pay in arbitration

MACHIAS – The deputy for the Washington County Sheriff’s Department who was suspended without pay in June for having taken up an opponent’s campaign signs 10 days after the primary election will receive five months of back pay and has resigned.

The settlement decision came out of an arbitration session Tuesday between Washington County commissioners and Jeffrey Bishop of Cherryfield at the Washington County Courthouse.

Bishop, who was suspended without pay on June 22, acknowledged the commissioners’ offer, then resigned his position.

“Jeff Bishop does not want to be associated with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department any longer,” said Bishop’s attorney, Donald Brown of Brewer, who spoke for the former deputy.

“A combination of things and politics caused a man to be without work for five months, and the taxpayers will cover the back pay, about $10,000.

“We believe that Jeff was never properly suspended, anyway. The commissioners admitted they did not hold a proper hearing. They never asked Jeff what happened that night.”

A Republican candidate for the position of Washington County sheriff, Bishop lost in the primary election to Rodney Merritt, another sheriff’s deputy who now stands in a three-way race for sheriff on Nov. 7.

The incident that resulted in Bishop’s suspension occurred 10 days after the primary. He said in June that he and Merritt had talked about each helping the other pick up campaign signs after the primary. Accordingly, when Bishop was approached by a state trooper on the bridge in Cherryfield over the Narraguagus River, he had Merritt signs in his pickup truck. One of Merritt’s signs was floating in the water below. The trooper gave Bishop a summons to appear in Machias District Court on charges of Class D criminal mischief and Class E theft.

Bishop has pleaded not guilty to both charges and awaits a jury trial in Washington County Superior Court.

Merritt reiterated Tuesday that he and Bishop “never” had an agreement about picking up the signs.

After Tuesday’s decision, Kevin Shorey, chairman of the commissioners, called the Bishop matter “an unfortunate incident.”

“The county commissioners looked at our options and saw this as the best route to take for the people of the county,” Shorey said. “This was a settlement.”

The two parties had anticipated a hearing with witnesses scheduled for the full day, but it never reached that point. The sides started the morning working in separate rooms in an effort to reach a resolution. Soon emerged the commissioners’ offer to provide five months of back pay to Bishop.

That was agreeable to Bishop.

Bishop was represented in the arbitration by Kenneth Eaton of South Portland, who works with Teamsters Union Local 340. The county was represented by attorney Ron Ducharme of Waterville.

The commissioners, who had not been able to hear Bishop’s case sooner for several reasons, had scheduled an appeal of Bishop’s suspension for immediately after the arbitration on Tuesday. The commissioners held the initial hearing on Aug. 3 that should have occurred within 10 days of the June suspension. The board denied Bishop’s grievance in his absence. On Tuesday, attorney Brown said that neither he nor Bishop had been notified that the hearing would take place. Once arbitration produced the settlement Tuesday, the commissioners canceled Bishop’s appeal on the Aug. 3 decision.

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