Brattleboro Community Justice Center: Kehnemuyi steps down as director

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BRATTLEBORO — At the two-year mark of his run as executive director of the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, Darah Kehnemuyi will step down, but not without accomplishing some major goals.

"I had an opportunity to pick up where Larry [Hames, former executive director] left off," Kehnemuyi said. "Some of the work involved strengthening our Board of Directors, our citizen advisory board. I had been on that for a long time actually and I knew there were a number of us who thought the way it operated could be improved. So that's been done."

Kehnemuyi's last day on the job is Aug. 22.

"It's some ways in the distance, and it gives the town and our board time to find someone good to replace me," he said, adding that the two groups were hoping there would be some overlap between him and his successor, "so I can walk the new person through we have have going here and what they would need to pay attention to and that sort of thing."

Kehnemuyi said he was in "an odd position" when he took on the job, as he had already retired and the Board of Directors wasn't able to find someone to replace his predecessor. A search committee had been formed. But Kehnemuyi said the process did not work out the way the organization wanted. The town started to accept a second round of applications and Kehnemuyi submitted one, saying he would hold the job temporarily.

"So it will be a little more than two years at the time when I retire, which I had originally planned," he said.

During his two-year tenure, the justice center's board drafted new bylaws and updated the memorandum of understanding with the town, which acts as the justice center's fiscal agent, administering grant money from the Vermont Department of Corrections.

The justice center's "governance structure is stronger and I'm glad for it," he said.

Kehnemuyi also noted that the center's reparative and community re-entry programs are now stronger.

"I increased the amount of work we were doing assisting people getting out of prison and coming back to our community," he said. "I'm quite happy with that."

Kehnemuyi was a public defender for about 30 years and felt there wasn't enough being done to help people going through the court system. Despite resigning the position, he still plans to volunteer at the justice center, something he has done for 10 to 11 years if the time spent as executive director is counted.

"I certainly think there's more to build on when the new director comes in," he said.

BCJC is based out of the Brattleboro Municipal Center. The town provides in-kind donations to the organization.

"We've been fortunate to have a very good relationship with the town and we're given a large degree of independence to operate as would be professionally appropriate for a community justice center to operate," Kehnemuyi said. "We're blessed in that way."

He considers the work that BCJC does for Brattleboro and Windham County to be important. His goal is to "just help as many people as you can." He said restorative justice allows him to do that.

Kehnemuyi said he has seen successes in both "individual panel work and individual circumstances of helping people re-settle in our communities after being released from prisons."

"It's extremely gratifying when you see it happen," he said. "Not to be preachy but, am I my brother's keeper? My answer is I'll do the best I can."

At last count, about 53 volunteers assist Kehnemuyi and his team.

"We couldn't do the work we do without volunteers," he said. "The work is done, for the most part, by the volunteers."

He hopes to continue to expand the justice center and promote the concept of restorative justice, calling it "something that helps the people who are referred to us" but also the community.

The Board of Directors has begun looking for Kehnemuyi's replacement. To apply, visit brattleboro.org. More information on the center can be found on brattleborocjc.org.

Kehnemuyi is not quite sure where he will go from here. He said he has been looking around for another job and has asked the local court if there's any work that might be available.

"Gotta keep busy," he said. "The alternative is I buy a motorcycle and go across the country for awhile."

The justice center is also a full-time administrator of the state's program on safe driving. Originally, the DOC oversaw it. Now, it's in the hands of the Vermont Agency of Transportation. The contract goes through the Community Justice Network of Vermont. Brattleboro's center is among 20 others in the state.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.

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