This past Tuesday I returned to Town Hall to hear the preliminary report on the whether the Interim Town Manager interfered with an internal investigation being conducted by Chief Mark Deluca. As a former Assistant District Attorney, Army JAG lawyer and town manager/administrator, I was amazed at the approach the investigation is taking.
In any investigation the complainant is the first to be interviewed. In this case, Chief Deluca will be the last. It is also erroneous to assume that an objective investigation can only be conducted on the basis of a written statement. As to claims that he was extended a fair opportunity to comment is outrageous as his attorney was only contacted 10PM the night before Tuesday’s meeting.
The preliminary report was also quick to exonerate but deficit in its reasoning. First, it was reasoned by the Chairman that Chief Deluca launched an inquiry only after Chief Deluca learned that the interim town manager spoke to the union president. I can tell you from over a decade of experience that an internal inquiry is launched the moment a Town Manager/Town Administrator contacts the community’s chief law enforcement officer. In other words, the fuse was lit the Saturday of election day when Interim Town Manager Milanowski called Chief Deluca. A fact buttressed by former Chief Jim Hussey – who in addition to being Cohasset’s former top cop headed the Internal Affairs Division of the Boston Police Department.
Secondly, while the fact that a Town Manager has the authority to speak directly to union personnel without involving either the chief or department head is technically legal, no seasoned town manager/administrator worth his salt would ever undercut the actions of a top manager except in the most extreme circumstances. The fact that the Interim Town Manager specifically asked the Town Attorney to point this out weakens the public’s confidence in the objectivity of the inquiry and creates a question as to whether the one being investigated is actually leading the investigation.
The letters from both the Attorney General’s Office and State Ethics Commission do not actually clear anyone. The Attorney General letter- typical in such matters– the criminal division leaves the issue to the local administrative authority while the State Ethics Commission bases its letter on a phone conversation that the circumstances of the matters are exactly the way the Interim Town Manager has portrayed them. In any investigation, there are always two sides of every story, conflicting statements as well as circumstances. So the reasoning that one could base exonerating the Interim Town Manager can be based upon these documents is also clearly erroneous.
Chief Deluca needs to be heard as he has direct knowledge of the events not hearsay as it was reasoned by another commentator last night nor can the magnitude of the issue be diminished like another tried to do. Chief Deluca’s job and reputation are on the line as well as the integrity of the department. This is as serious as it gets. Finally, the fact that four of the five selectmen are ready to exonerate the Interim Town Manager before a final and complete report is rendered is also troubling as to their objectivity and fairness in the future.
As the old adage states, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. As former Chief Hussey reminded the board on Tuesday the Cohasset Police Department suffered several years ago from ill conceived and biased investigations as to officers conduct in the past– ending up costing the town money while tarnishing the image of the police department as a whole. The Board of Selectmen would be wise to consider Chief Hussey’s advice.
Mike Coughlin (former Cohasset Town Manager