Monday, July 01, 2013

More on the Selectboard's Mishandling of the Police Situation

Many of us have had suspicions about the explanations from members of the selectboard about how the police debacle unfolded.  Here's the transcript of a meeting that came after the suspension of the chief in which various citizens questioned what had happened.  There are discrepancies between what's said at this meeting and what was said at the suspension meeting. 

Also interesting is Selectman Flynn's attempt to elevate policeman Pilone to the chief's position by, among other things, saying how great he is.  How quickly things can change.  Would you like to explain Mr. Flynn?  I won't hold my breath.

Here's the transcript:

Mr. Swanson:            The complaint that was a petition that was filed with the Select Board that lead to the removal of Reena Bucknell, will that be made public?

Selectman Turner:            Well, there wasn’t really a petition, that was a vote of no confidence by the police officer.

Mr. Swanson:            So, it’s an oral—

Selectman Brazie:            No, it was written.  And it’s already been made public.  It was attached to the minutes that, so, would you like a copy?

Mr. Swanson:            And the second question is, once this petition was submitted, what was the process that the select board went through that led to the decision to suspend Ms. Bucknell, Chief Bucknell, with pay?  Was there a review, a discussion with Bucknell, was there, are there files or documents?

Selectman Turner:            She wasn’t attending at, present at, that meeting.

Selectman Brazie:            Right.

Mr. Swanson:            Did you decide in the meeting?

Selectman Turner:            Yes, we did.

Selectman Flynn:            Yes, we did.

Mr. Swanson:            Okay.  Why did you not go through a more formal process that would be [Inaudible].

Selectman Turner:            What would have been the formal process?

Mr. Swanson:            Pardon me?

Selectman Turner:            What would have been the formal process?

Mr. Swanson:            Well, normally, in, in—

Selectman Turner:            We initiated an investigation at that time.

Mr. Swanson:            After suspending her.

Selectman Turner:            Yes, and that’s the formal process that—

Mr. Swanson:            Why did you decide to suspend her based on a complaint from her employees rather than discuss it with her?

Selectman Brazie:            ’Cause it wasn’t a single complaint, actually.  There were several complaints.

Mr. Swanson:            Presented simultaneously?

Selectman Brazie:            Yes.

Speaker:            Mm hm.

Speaker:            Yeah.

Selectman Brazie:            Along with the vote of no confidence.

Selectman Turner:            I think we had the full there—

Mr. Swanson:            She thought that was the full story [Inaudible].

Selectman Turner:            With a full group of officers it was, it was either we had a police department or we had a chief.  I don’t think there was a, and I think it was a—

Mr. Swanson:            So, the people, the officers who presented the petition, the vote of no confidence were ready to resign their positions?

Selectman Turner:            I think they were.

Mr. Swanson:            They made that clear?  Explicit?

Selectman Turner:            Explicit.

Mr. Swanson:            Explicit.

Selectman Turner:            They were here that night in force.  Every member of the police department.

Mr. Swanson:            So, it was a simple, “If you don’t suspend her immediately, we’re resigning our positions”?

Selectman Flynn:            What we did is we took the information that the officer provided to us.  We had some information already that we thought was pertinent including a most current eval and we had also consulted with our attorney to determine if—

Mr. Swanson:            Before you suspended her?

Selectman Flynn:            Yes.

Mr. Swanson:            Okay.

Selectman Flynn:            We consulted with our attorney and determined that the best process to follow was to suspend her with pay pending an investigation.  Which is exactly what we did.  Mary had spoken with counsel during the day or maybe it was me that spoke with counsel.

Selectman Brazie:            I think it was you.  I was—

Selectman Flynn:            It was me.  Because I had heard that something like this would take place, and I asked counsel as to the best process to follow and that’s what counsel suggested.  And that’s the process that we followed.

Mr. Swanson:            From a business perspective, it’s an extremely peculiar process.

Selectman Flynn:            This is not New York State.  This is the State of Massachusetts.  This is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Mr. Swanson:            My experience is not in New York State.

Selectman Flynn:            Let me finish.

Mr. Swanson:            Yeah.

Selectman Flynn:            You’ve had your chance to talk.

Mr. Swanson:            I don’t know why you say that.

Selectman Flynn:            Let me finish.  This is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and what we try to do is afford her every opportunity, including the opportunity to be at that meeting.  She chose not to be at that meeting.  For whatever reason, we do not know.

Mr. Swanson:            I’m wondering why you assume that my business experience was in the State of New York.

Selectman Turner:            Okay, this is not a conversation—

Selectman Flynn:            We’re not having a conversation about this.

Selectman Turner:            This is between us and the board, and the board made a decision.

Selectman Flynn:            I realize you like to carp about things, as you have accused me in the past, okay?  But we’ll talk about it afterwards, okay?

Mr. Swanson:            Okay.

Selectman Turner:            It was a decision the board—

Selectman Flynn:            We made it as a board.

Selectman Turner:            The board made it based on issues that culminated that night with a vote of no confidence.  There have been some issues prior to that, it was, there was—

Mr. Swanson:            Just to be clear, I’ve never met Reena Bucknell.  I don’t know anything about her.

Selectman Turner:            Okay, well, there was a lot of behind the scenes stuff that not a lot of people are aware of that we were, that culminated that night with that.  It wasn’t just that night that we decided to do it.  There was, there was—

Selectman Flynn:            Fourteen years and sixty officers.

Selectman Turner:            Not only that, but we had—

Mr. Swanson:            Compared to what?

Selectman Turner:            We had just hired two new officers that were extremely qualified or had been on the job for three or four months and we’d had a meeting prior to that night in which we tried to iron out some of the issues and found it kind of tense, at best.

Mr. Swanson:            Yes.

Selectman Turner:            And then a lot of things fell into place after that, that resulted in what we did.  I think there’s a lot more to it than just the vote of no confidence that night.  There were some other things that were happening behind the scenes.

Selectman Flynn:            When we tried to get close to particular facts and particular situations, there was a tendency of the chief to want to change the subject or move on to something else.  And we got close to some issues that really should have been discussed and she was more anxious in closing the meeting and moving on to a training session.  I think every effort was made to give the chief an opportunity to discuss it, and we’re still willing to have a public meeting with the chief.  If the chief chooses to do that, we will be more than happy to have that public meeting so that she can address each and every one of those charges.  We want this to be, and what we have tried to do, is keep this whole process as open and honest as we possibly could.  It’s a tough thing to do, but I think one of the things that this board has done is we made that report available as soon as we possibly could.  We went through to three counsels in order to ensure it got done.  We went to the district attorney, we went to our own attorney, and also we went to the attorney general to ensure it was something that we could release because we felt it was something that the town and the community needed to know.  Now we’re going on to the next step.

Selectman Turner:            So, anybody else?  Yes.

Male Speaker 4:            I was there at that meeting where all the officers were there and the complaints were issued and Charlie himself made statements that you could not get in contact with the chief so she was not available for being there.  Where’s the inconsistency there?

Selectman Flynn:            Do you have those notes written down somewhere?

Selectman Turner:            That’s, no.  It was an open meeting and she could have attended that night.  We did not know exactly what was going to happen that night, nor did we orchestrate what happened that night, but that’s, you know, that’s—

Male Speaker 4:            Charlie did know, he said.

Selectman Turner:            Maybe Charlie knew but—

Selectman Flynn:            [Inaudible] to be at the meeting.  That’s the only thing I can tell you.


Male Speaker 4:            After everybody else went away, you were here [Inaudible].

Selectman Turner:            Yeah, okay, we’re not here to discuss that.

Selectman Flynn:            We’re not here to discuss it.  I mean, if you can give me the exact recording of what I said.

Selectman Turner:            I mean, this is, this is—

Selectman Flynn:            I’m happy to stand up to it.

Selectman Turner:            This is an issue that we dealt with.

Speaker:            You want evidence.

Speaker:            You got it.

Selectman Turner:            We dealt with that night the best we thought we could and, and we’re, and we’ll—

Speaker:            Otherwise [Inaudible] will be okay.

Speaker:            You do that pretty well, Mr. Zorick.

Speaker:            We’re not here to discuss it, fair enough, but you are here to answer citizens’ questions.

Selectman Turner:            Yes, we are.  And we are working our way through the process here, and we made a determination that night that that was the best interest of the community to do what we did and I think that it will bear out that that was, in fact, the case.  And that’s what we get elected to do.  You guys have anything, town officials?  No town officials?  I’ve moved on to town officials.

Selectman Brazie:            Oh, you did?

Selectman Turner:            He didn’t raise his hand on time.  Are you a town official?

Male Speaker 5:            I just have one question, though, and that’s how long a process is this going be, take until it’s finished?

Selectman Turner:            It’s going to take until it’s finished.  I don’t know how long the pro—

Male Speaker 5:            We retain the acting chief and keep going on and paying—

Selectman Turner:            We are going through due process, and due process sometimes takes time.  And it’s not a cheap deal.  But we’re going to come out of this with the proper result in the best interest of the community.  And that’s all I can say right now.  We’ve released the report and we’re moving forward.  You guys have nothing?

Speaker:            I don’t have anything.

Selectman Turner:            Don’t have nothing.

Speaker:            For once.

Selectman Turner:            Okay.  Part-time officers.  We have a couple of guys you’ve brought before us to appoint.

Selectman Brazie:            We did.  Bill Tighe asked me today, though, if we would hold off on this.  He has been unable to verify some references.

Selectman Flynn:            I move to defer the appointments.

Selectman Turner:            Until our next meeting.  Are we meeting next week?

Selectman Brazie:            We are scheduled to meet next week, yes.

Selectman Turner:            Okay.  Let’s meet next week.

Speaker:            Sorry.

Selectman Turner:            Police department issues.  We already discussed them.

Selectman Brazie:            Well, yes and no.

Selectman Turner:            What have we got, Mary?

Selectman Brazie:            Well, as you know, Bill Tighe and myself and a full time officer interviewed a couple of possible candidates for an interim part-time administrative acting police chief and somewhere, did he send you, did Bill Tighe send you an email?

Selectman Turner:            Yes, he did.

Selectman Brazie:            So, I interviewed the two, and, and I guess, you know, one question is, does the board feel that two are enough?  More than two people, these two people, actually, were not contacted by the town.  They contacted the town and expressed their interest, but people that have been contacted by the town for various reasons are walking away.  So, now we’ve done these interviews and we have these two candidates and the first question that I would ask is, is the board ready to act on this, or do you want more follow-up on it?

Selectman Flynn:            Okay, I put my foot in my mouth all night long so I might as well not stop, huh?

Selectman Brazie:            Sure, why not, Charlie?

Selectman Flynn:            My feeling is that when we suspended the chief we appointed an officer in charge and then we engaged in a management study.  What we’ve gotten for the first time in about 14 years is some real, we’ve got some morale.  We look like we have a police department that’s working together and currently the officer in charge, acting chief, whatever he is, is making patrolman’s pay, he’s getting paid patrolman’s pay to do the job.  Of the two people that were interviewed, I’ve seen the evaluation based on that and Bill Tighe sent to me, and I find, you know, I like Brian Shaw.  You know he’s local, and I think he’s good.  But again we’re talking 20 hours a week at $20 an hour.  And what are we going to ask that person to do?  Are we going to ask that person to run the department?  Are we going to ask that person to follow through on the management study?  What is a role that person’s going to fill?  We have an officer in charge already who is taking steps, I think, to correct some of the issues that have been cited as problems in the management study.

So, the question I think we have to ask ourselves, if we’re going to hire somebody new, or somebody that’s not currently on the police department, what is the specific guidance that we’re going to provide to that particular person?  Are they going to be an acting chief?  If they’re going to be an acting chief, what are they going to do?  And then the next question is, who or what or how do we address this management study that we paid $10,000 for but gave us additional work to do?  Who’s going to take care of that?  And then who’s going to report to the select board and then ultimately to the town?  Because I really believe that we owe it to the town to tell them not only what the issue was, but then how we’re going to address that issue.  And then I think the third process down the line is, what is our plan for the future police department?  We were, in a sense, told one thing in November by our current chief, Bucknell, about the cost of hiring additional officers.  And it turns out that that may not be the case.

So, we have to ask ourselves, what are we going to present to the town, to the people of the town, in terms of what is the makeup of our department going to be, and then how much is it going to cost the taxpayers to have that particular type of makeup.  So, I think we’ve got a couple of issues that we really have to address, because just appointing somebody and not giving that person any guidance as to how we want to proceed we really have not done anything.

Selectman Brazie:            I agree that we need to come up with some clear delineation of the roles, but do we agree that we need to have some sort of an acting chief here?

Selectman Flynn:            Oh, I agree.

Selectman Brazie:            Oh, okay, because I thought I might have been hearing—

Selectman Flynn:            No.

Selectman Brazie:            —hearing something different.

Selectman Turner:            So, it sounds to me like we’re not really ready to do anything tonight.

Selectman Brazie:            So, when are we going to be ready, because here we are now, you know, two months out from making this move and—

Selectman Turner:            Let’s take a time this week to come up with what we think is a job description, a description of duties that we’d like this person to perform.

Selectman Brazie:            And do we do that on our own, or do we get together and meet and do that.

Selectman Turner:            Well, I would recommend that you and Bill get together and, [Inaudible] to delegate.  And then fire it off to us and then we can [Inaudible], because I think we really need to do, you know, let them do the upper level stuff.  I’m not sure, you know.  Maybe manage the investigation but not necessarily have to do all the day-to-day management of the department.  I think we have people capable of doing that right now.

Selectman Brazie:            I agree.

Selectman Turner:            And I really don’t want to interfere with that too much with what’s going on there right now.  That’s my thought.  I don’t know, what you think, Charlie?

Selectman Flynn:            Well, let me just throw this out, okay, because I really agonized over this, I’ve thought about this a lot.  That I may be the lone wolf of the group.  There’s been a lot of misinformation that’s circulated through town about what the current police department is doing.  I’ve had comments made about the humvees, the assault rifles and everything [Inaudible].  And let me clarify that a little bit.  We were offered an opportunity to partner with the state police that has access to certain military surplus items which the town can choose to take advantage of or not take advantage of.  And that ultimately is a decision that’s make by the select board in an open meeting.  It’s not made by the police department, but it’s made by the board of select and that’s part of the whole process.  It is something where military-issue items are made available to the state police, and the state police then screen them out to the various police agencies throughout the state.  Those police agencies then go through their boards of select and the select members either say yea or nay and then if they go back in and it’s on a first-come-first-serve basis.  What I’ve seen since this whole situation started is that each and every one of our police officers act with the utmost, utmost professionalism and courtesies towards everybody in town, and if they haven’t, I would like to know about it.

We have Officer Palone, who’s been acting as the officer in charge, and, essentially, been functioning as the interim chief and what I would like to propose before the selectmen and I don’t think we need to decide upon this but I’m going to throw this in tonight, is that we consider appointing Officer Palone as the Interim Chief at his current salary and then appointing Officer Carlson, in addition to his normal duties, as Chief Investigation Officer of the management report, because he is a certified detective, and also a certified trainer in the State of Massachusetts, to investigate and report to the board of selectmen on a weekly basis or at each and every one of our meetings until such time as we have been able to resolve the issues that have been identified within the management report.  Again, it’s not a motion, it’s just a suggestion.

Selectman Turner:            Yes, sir.

Speaker:            I recall that this issue of appointing an interim chief came up at a select board meeting, and the impression I got, and I didn’t take notes, was that this was the suggestion or request of one or more of the outside agencies that had been consulted, the District Attorney, or the Attorney General, or somebody of that ilk.  Now, I, I’ve just, if that’s the case, then wouldn’t their reasons for making that suggestion constitute the heart of a job description for such a person and, if that’s not the case, I’ve got it all wrong, then I wonder why, then, you should consider an outside person at all.  I mean, I can see why the state might make such a recommendation, but I’m not 100% sure in my own mind that they did.  I may have misheard them.

Selectman Brazie:            No, actually a state office did make that recommendation as well as the consulting firm that did our management study and our legal counsel.  All three of them made the same recommendations for very valid reasons, I feel.  So, we’ll go from here, I guess, and—

Selectman Turner:            I think we’ll—

Selectman Brazie:            —pull together—

Selectman Turner:            I hate to say it, but let’s put together some job descriptions and duties and responsibilities and be ready to do things.  And if we can find nothing against the two that we interviewed but if somebody else pops up, I’d like to interview them, too.  Okay?

Selectman Brazie:            Mm hm.

Selectman Turner:            Okay, with you, Charlie?

Selectman Flynn:            Works for me.

Selectman Turner:            Then we’ll do, deal with that next Monday.

Selectman Brazie:            Okay.

Selectman Turner:            Do we have any selectmen’s items?
Selectman Brazie:  I do.  May meetings, as you know it’s town meeting, it’s the first week of May, right?


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