Over the past four weeks, the tiny Montpelier office that assists Vermont's county prosecutors has expanded to include some familiar figures.
John Campbell, who stepped down as Senate president pro tempore last year to lead the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, has brought on two veterans of former governor Peter Shumlin's administration: former labor commissioner Annie Noonan and former director of intergovernmental affairs James Pepper.
"When I got here, it was clear that this place was totally understaffed," said Campbell, who has served as the department's executive director since last May. In that role, for which he earns $108,000 a year, Campbell provides budgetary and lobbying assistance to the independently elected state's attorneys and sheriffs from Vermont's 14 counties.
Noonan, who spent six years running the Vermont Department of Labor, started at the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs two weeks ago in the newly created position of labor relations manager. Though the $43-an-hour job is billed as temporary, Campbell is seeking to make it permanent in next year's state budget. Pepper, meanwhile, started four weeks ago in a recently created deputy state's attorney position focused on appellate work.
Neither job was publicly posted and neither candidate faced competition. According to Pepper, Campbell called him up five weeks ago and asked if he was interested in applying for the vacant position. Within a week, he was installed in the department's Baldwin Street headquarters. Pepper had been unemployed since January, when Gov. Phil Scott succeeded Shumlin.
"When we all got laid off by the Phil Scott administration, [Campbell] was one of the people I stayed in touch with and sought advice from about job prospects," Pepper said. "It was relatively quick between the time that he called me and I started. A lot of that was because he knew I was out there and looking for stuff."
Noonan, whom Campbell described as "a personal friend," had been informally advising the department about changes in labor law when Campbell asked in March whether she would be interested in a job. He argued that the position was necessary in order to grapple with a new collective bargaining landscape.
In January 2016, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that those working in state's attorneys offices with more than five employees were entitled to unionize, but they were to do so under municipal labor law — not state labor law. Previously, deputy state's attorneys had been treated, essentially, as hybrid state-municipal workers who were hired and managed locally but whose pay was determined by the state. They did not have collective bargaining rights.
"That put us in a really bizarre position, actually," Campbell said of the court ruling. "The department was without anybody who could handle the [human resources] stuff. I don't do labor issues. Labor is a very specialized area. When I was looking around, Annie had not taken a job yet. I asked her if she was interested. I was fortunate enough to get her."
Hiring Noonan was not an entirely straightforward affair.
According to records obtained by Seven Days, Campbell's April 5 request to convert an existing deputy state's attorney job to an exempt position for Noonan met with resistance from the Scott administration. In an April 10 email, Department of Human Resources classification director Molly Paulger told Campbell that Secretary of Administration Susanne Young and Deputy Secretary of Administration Brad Ferland had rejected the request.
"They are not comfortable changing the attorney position to a non-attorney title, since it was specifically authorized as an attorney so recently," Paulger wrote. "They recommend you talk to the legislature about either amending the original authorization, or you can ask to create a new position for this need."
Campbell, a former member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, knew whom to turn to next. Two days later, he told Paulger that the committee's chair, Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), and the committee member who oversees state's attorney appropriations, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), had agreed to include the reclassification in the Senate's version of the state budget.
"The only problem with this whole thing is that the reclassification won't occur until the budget is signed by the Gov. (and that may run into snags)," Campbell wrote Paulger on April 12. "I need to have Annie on board to help with immediate labor and budget issues. Any ideas. Can I hire her on as a temp?"
After Paulger assented to that plan, Campbell engaged in unusual salary negotiations with his future employee. When Noonan asked Campbell what the job should be titled and how much pay she should receive, he wrote, "I don't care. All I want is to make sure that the position allows me to pay you what you need." Noonan suggested a level that would compensate her at $43 an hour.
Throughout the process, Campbell made clear to the administration and the Senate that he had Noonan in mind for the new job. She is well known and well liked in the Statehouse, having served for 14 years as executive director of the Vermont State Employees Association before Shumlin appointed her labor commissioner. Her longtime partner is Secretary of State Jim Condos, himself a former senator.
"To be totally honest, I was aware that Annie Noonan was working with John," Sears said. "I mean, it's not up to us who Campbell hires ... But I think she's obviously very qualified in this area."
Windsor County State's Attorney David Cahill, who serves on the five-member executive board that oversees Campbell's office, said his peers perceived "a genuine need for specialized services" to address the changed labor laws. But he said the committee had not specifically called for a new, full-time employee.
"We did not discuss any detail regarding whether the services should be provided by a contractor, a temporary employee or a permanent employee," Cahill said.
In addition to their principal duties, both Noonan and Pepper said they expected to help Campbell with his Statehouse lobbying responsibilities during the legislative session. Noonan maintained that she had already proved her value to the department in her first days on the job by helping to rewrite legislation, S.131, that would address the Supreme Court ruling by allowing state's attorney staffers to collectively bargain at the state level.
"I think the proof's in the pudding," she said, arguing that she had expeditiously improved an earlier, Senate-passed version of S.131, which she said had been "a crazy-ass bill."
Noonan disputed the suggestion that Campbell had engaged in cronyism when he hired her.
"I don't believe John gave me a job because he's my friend," she said. "John hired me because he needed help and he knows me and knows there's probably only a handful of people in the state with the background and experience in labor relations that I do."
Campbell has a history of job creation in Vermont state government. While serving as Senate president, he doubled the size and payroll of his legislative staff, as Seven Days reported in February 2015. A year earlier, he used his position as Senate president and Appropriations Committee member to lobby on behalf of his neighbor, then-Windsor County state's attorney Michael Kainen, to create a new, part-time deputy state's attorney position in their county. Within weeks of its creation, Campbell asked for the job and Kainen hired him for it, as Seven Days reported in April 2015.
According to Campbell, there's "nothing nefarious" about his recent hires at the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs.
"This was not a position that was created just to create a position. This was a position created out of need and necessity," he said. "The state — or, at least, the department — got a bargain in having Annie hired."