Town Meeting hits the Column

The Lowell Sun political gossip column this moring headlined with the Dracut Town Meeting discussion on the article about removing the Police Chief from civil service.

For an issue that would not apply to him, Chief Richardson seemed to take it most personally, and all the officers in the audience seemed to have an ongoing grudge against former police officer, now Selectman Tony Archinski.


THE COLUMN – Dracut vote holds bitter aftertaste
The Lowell Sun
A Sun Staff report

MONDAY WAS not, perhaps, the finest night for Dracut’s finest serving as role models.

A large contingent of police officers, firefighters, and their families marshaled for Monday’s Town Meeting to strike down Town Manager Jim Duggan’s proposal to remove the police chief’s position from Civil Service protection.

It was an emotional night, and at times the animosity seemed to boil over.

For one, Selectman Tony Archinski, a retired police officer who was once passed over for the chief’s position and is no friend of the current police leadership, stood to speak in favor of the proposal. Boos rained down from the corner of the auditorium where police officers were sitting.

Police Chief Kevin Richardson said, “Oh, this a******,” loudly enough for those sitting near him to hear.

As Archinski wrapped up, Richardson joined the chorus of dissent and yelled at him to sit down.

The chief appeared to be in a snarky mood throughout the night.

Earlier, Duggan had asked schools Superintendent Steven Stone, whose position is on a contract rather than Civil Service, how many students were in the schools. Stone responded from his front-row seat “about 3,700.”

At which point Richardson turned around, fixed Stone with a stare, and said “Oh, do you want to be police chief?”

The tenor of the meeting seemed to degrade as the debate went on, eventually prompting Town Moderator George Malliaros to cut short iscussion and declare that the vote would be taken by secret ballot to ensure that residents felt comfortable voting.

Boos again erupted from the Civil Service supporters. Someone in that section shouted that all voters should have to show their faces.

The final vote: 278-198 against the change.


Police Chief Article loses at town meeting

On a vote of 198 for removing the Police Chief from Civil Service to 278 against, the article went down at a town meeting that started with a quorum of 392, and finished with 476 voters deciding this final warrant article by ballot vote.

On other items, one citizen tried to amend the article that provided stipends for elected officials to zero out the amounts.  By a standing vote, his amendment was defeated with 94 agreeing with him, to 233 against.

The town budget passed easily

Article 20 to increase the tax exemption for elderly that meet certain income and asset requirements from $500 to $600 passed just a easily.

Helen Dunlap of the Community Preservation Committee withdrew their motion for funding to move the old Fox farmhouse on Broadway, noting that they tried a number of options to save the old house, but nothing came through.

Grievances and Responses at DPD

If there is anything a lot of us don’t see its the many roles that the Town Manager has to perform.

One is to personally handle the employee grievances (official complaints from employees) that seem to regularly occur in our Police Dept.

After the outside review that was perfomed on this department this spring, it was obvious that the department is trying to perform its services with very limited funding.  An attempt was made to ask the taxpayers to provide more funds for the safety departments, but that did not succeed.  What did happen however is that more people are paying attention to the department.

In January, a grievance from NEPBA (the union of which our police force is represented by) was recieved ( 1-26-2016 Grievance & Decision ) in response to a Sept 25, 2015 “correspondence from Deputy Chief Chartrand directing him (Lt Fleury) to submit a letter of explanation” about his working a certain number of hours within a timeframe that the Deputy suggested was in violation of a department policy.

Later, Fleury learned a copy of the correspondence would be placed in his “permanent file”, Fleury was given the opportunity to include a rebuttal.

The union’s grievance was that the policy regarding hours being worked did not exist at the time of the incident.

Response by Town Manager

Town Manager Duggan had to put in a lot of time and effort, as well as legal costs to have the Special Labor Counsel review the issues as well.

During his investigation, the police department claimed that the file where the correspondence was was being put was not the “permanent file” but an internal affairs file.  Duggan found that the “internal affairs” file is still part of the “personnel file”.

Furthermore, Duggan found that the correspondence from the Deputy Chief was “inundated with language that strongly suggests a personal hostility of the author toward the recipient.”

It is an audacious, personalized, subjective statement I consider inappropriate and outside the context of the intra-departmental communications between a supervisory officer and a subordinate officer.

Ultimately, Duggan agreed with the union grievance and had the letters removed from the files.

Lowell Sun Article

A second grievance ( 3-19-2016 Grievance & Decision ) was received in late March after an article appeared in the Lowell Sun regarding the previous grievance (which had not been disposed of at that time).

Information had been released to the press that the union felt was not appropriate with regard to an Internal Affairs investigation still underway.

The grievance asked for an investigation of the IA procedure violations by the Dept Chief, and for an apology be printed in the Sun (they also asked the Sun to retract the article.. but we have no control over that).

The Manager Responds again

It looks like the manager put a lot of time into this one, as he did the research to find that the issue at hand did not rise to the level of an Internal Affairs investigation. “I am hard pressed to conclude,” he says “that the asserted violation of an unwritten policy, known as the ’16 hour rule’, would warrant and IA investigation based on DPD policies regarding these underlying circumstances.”

He went on, again, to discuss his unhappiness with the Deputy Chief statements during the conferences that occurred over these grievances.

I am also concerned regarding statements made by the Deputy Chief during both conferences that 1) any matter of inquiry, regardless of the degree, in which the possible outcome could result in discipline warrants an internal affairs investigation, and that 2) Policies and Procedures are not relevant as to how “we” operate.

The manager goes on the reiterate that the MRI Risk Assessment Study Report had a significant finding that our DPD does not have a formalized internal affairs investigative program, nor a supervisor charged with running such a department… which is exactly why all this has occurred.

Investigation Continues

The investigation of these issues, and the steps taken by the Dracut Police Department continue.  Town Manager Duggan has arranged an outside appointee to oversee the investigation and make a ruling.

At that point, the Manager can choose to accept the ruling, overrule it and make his own finding, or amend it.  I would assume that because he went outside to get an unbiased appointee that he will accept the ruling.

Overall, it really looks the the DPD needs to spend the time and effort to review all of its policies (there are hundreds of towns  and cities in Massachusetts that we can use as examples).  We cannot discipline employees with  unwritten policies or bring things to the level of an investigation that could just be handled via normal supervisory means which I would hope are also written.   Importantly, we need to improve the level of respect between the officers and the management.. I can’t believe this is only about funding.