Sometimes an outside police chief candidate is called for

I read the Editorial in the Cohasset Mariner with great interest. While I am no expert, I have managed four towns during my career and before that worked closely with numerous police departments in the commonwealth and federal law enforcements as both an Assistant District Attorney and military prosecutor. During my career I have removed a long sitting police chief for misconduct and presided over three selection processes for Police Chief. So I have some persepectve.

I agree with the editor that in most instances it is better to promote from the ranks. Nevertheless at some times in the history of a police an outside candidate is needed. Let me cite an example. As most know, prior to being appointed in Cohasset. I spent four and half years as Town Administrator in Westport. Some years ago when there was great dissension within a department, an outside chief came in and made the changes that were needed to end the dissension and professionalize the department. In the process he made enemies within the political structure of the town and he was forced out but the department was a better place for his efforts.

During this time a young sergeant learned much from the outside chief. When it came to naming a new chief, this young sergeant with a masters degree beat out the sitting Deputy Chief who all expected would be named chief in a head to head interview and assessment center process. After being named Chief the former Sergeant kept the deputy chief on, they became a team and I am proud to say the Westport Police Department continues to be one of the most professional on what we like to call the “Southcoast”

The point I am trying to make that the old ad was too restrictive limiting others from competing. So while the old ad mentioned “a strong internal candidate” who is to say there are not more potential candidates within the present ranks. If they are not then this should be a “red flag” to the community about leadership and professional development within the department. It is only natural that the town wants to encourage officers to assume more responsibility. In candor, I was troubled that only one candidate came forward for deputy. In many of my past departments, younger officers came forward to participate in the selection process for the experience and to signal to the powers at be that they wanted a role in the future of the department. So it troubles me that an ad highlighted only one internal candidate.

In any event, with respect to the Deputy Police Chief, I did promote him to the second in command position. I even gave him a pair of my army captain’s bars that I wore on my uniform. I like the guy and will be foreover grateful to him for getting his old attorney- Doug Louision to take my case. When I promoted him, the concept was that he would gain the experience to one day take over the department by serving as Mark Deluca’s second in command. The Deputy and Chief were very different people but I thought they would develop into like what happened in Westport between the chief and deputy– a self supporting and complementary team. I also made it clear to the Deputy that he had to take significant steps towards a degree to be considered for further advancement. So contrary to the assertion in the editorial– there was always an understanding that formal education was always going to be an important consideration in command advancement. Yet, I agree there is more to command than book learning. There is how an individual reacts to stress and crisis.

After the Acting Town Manager voided the contract protections which I extended to 11 employees, the Chief became concerned about a contract extension particularly after speaking out publicly at Town Meeting in May against a “Dark Station”. At my unofficial farewell party at Stars in Hingham which was secretly attended by a number of town employees and a fair number of police officers, I got a chance to speak to them after Chief Deluca left. The Deputy told me that Mark was on edge and I told him that the heavy duties of taking a command position warranted that he talk to the chief. At no time was there any allegation of wrong doing or conduct mentioned. When the Deputy told him he was apprehensive to talk to the very man who had recommended him for promotion– I told him to contact former Chief Hussey. Apparently, they went to the Acting Town Manager instead.

For me in all fairness this goes to the very heart of the ability to command. One– if they had been wrongdoing or a pattern of unethical conduct– why was it not reported to me as Town Manager when it happened. Two and perhaps most importantly– it is well known that the Deputy was let go from the police department and had to fight his way back. Usually, those who have suffered that fate learn from that ordeal by developing compassion if not a dedication to go that extra mile to ensure that justice is done. In this case, the Chief was the one officer the Deputy was supposed to work the closest with. Apparently this was not the case. This bothered me and it opened my eyes to the fairness in which I dealt with the case of Sgt Jack Conte.

To that end, I recall that the best lessons that I learned on leadership and command did not come from college or law school but from my from my time in the service. Above all other things a leader wether it is in the military or heading up a public safety department must be prepared to put all of his heart, all of his soul and all of his courage to protect the men and women that have been placed under his command and to the people that he serves. From time to time– and I have the scars to prove it- it means placing someone or something before your own career or own self interest. So In my opinion, the jury is out on whether the Deputy is ready to permanently assume the mantle of the town top cop. . Does he have that potential down the road– I think so but only time will tell.

In her commentary, the editor– which I have the utmost respect for– also draws her conclusions about the department from her long time vantage point of covering the “police beat”. This is relevant but in all fairness, the recent reaction of the Acting Police Chief to my posting on Tinytown on the Conte case also tends to undercuts your opinion as to the current state of press relations with publications other than the Mariner. Aside from the fact that I remain covered by the town for actions which I performed while I was Town Manager — including my continuing duty to seek justice in a matter where I sat in a quasi judical capacity, if public official is so bothered by a blog like Tinytown I ask you in all honesty — how is he going to react in a real crisis? And while I count both the editors of Tinytown and the Cohasset Mariner as friends– doesn’t the disparate treatment of both publications by the department smack of a double standard.

As for the new selection process, I have worked with Chief Wayne Sampson Executve Director of the Mass Chiefs Association in the past. I had cases with him when I was in the Worcester District Attorney’s Office and he assisted in my selection of a Chief in the Town of Northbridge. He is attorney to boot and knows what it is like to be unfairly forced out of his own department. As some may recall, he also offered his opinion in opposition to plans to have a “Dark Station” While have my own opinion, Chief Sampson will be an important advisor to the Board of Selectmen to ensure that the selection process is above board, transparent and fair to all candidates. In all due respect and I have nothing but respect for the Mariner, its editor and their reporters but I would hope that the editor would agree that a professional like Chief Sampson is better qualified to draw a conclusion about the state of a police department and agree that the selection process for a chief must be above reproach as to legitimize the appointment of the eventual candidate that is chosen.

To than end, I believe the criteria should be so tailored to allow the Deputy to compete along with other officers in the department and from outside the department. Formal education should be listed as a perfered credential. Morevover the process should also be opened up to sergeants and above. Finally and most importantly, the selection process must take into consideration the legal moves now underway to reinstate both Mark Deluca and Jack Conte. I have been on contact with both man and last week spent my time meeting with attorneys. While I can only talk for myself but both two top Boston employment and labor attorneys believe that both of their settlement agreements are void because they failed to comply with the approval requirements of the Strong Town Manager Act. Moreover these same attorneys also concluded that the contracts I extended to various employees are in fact valid under the contract authority of the Town Manager and the bylaws.

So it begs a few question, if Jack Conte’s settlement agreement was never formally voted on by the selectmen and is void– shouldn’t he be reinstated.? And if the selection of the next Chief is open to Sergeants and above– shouldn’t he in fairness be allowed to compete?

Similiarly since the time for the Selectmen to formally vote on Chief Deluca’s settlement agreement has also long since passed, isn’t that agreement void as well? And if it is given what Town Attorney DeRensis told the selectmen a couple of weeks ago namely that a Town Manager has the authority to negotiate a contract wthout the approval of the BOS– wouldn’t that mean that Mark Deluca has a valid contract extension to August 2014.?

These questions must be answered in the context of any discussion about the next search process for Police Chief. Only then will the citizens of Cohasset be well served.

Mike Coughlin

© Copyright 2013 Mike Coughlin, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed