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.

Volpe and Forcier talk first priorities

Newly elected officials Selectman Jesse Forcier and School Committee member Allison Volpe joined us on 980 WCAP this morning to discuss thier initial plans.

Volpe reiterated her experience with auditing and spoke about the school department review that was called for by Joe Wilkie back in January.  She plans to get that back on track, and push to move it forward.

She also spoke to better marketing our schools to the younger grades so that they stay with the town.

Forcier spoke to the fact that his focus is on assisting with Economic Development, doing what we can to get outside groups to see Dracut as the place to come to.

He has resigned from the Planning Board, but remains on the Dracut Housing Authority. The will provide housing needs a strong voice on the Board of Selectmen, and he looks forward to moving forward on the housing projects.

Both spoke to concern over the failure of the override questions to pass. Volpe agreed that an effort must be made to capture that rebate, but wasn’t sure at this time what we could give up for that to happen.

Lowell Sun editorial : Dracut’s penny-wise pound-foolish ways

Today’s Lowell Sun Editorial points out the schizophrenic voters in Dracut who voted against anyone opposing the override questions, but then voted against the questions themselves.
I agree with the point that the selectmen’s decision to split the question to two turned out to be the right one, as one question was fairly close to passing (a change of 71 out of 5000 voters would have done that), but the school question was doomed because of the decisions to give administrative raises just as the campaign had begun.
I understand recruiting and retention, and why those pay increases in the long run would keep us stable and probably save us money, but it was too easy a target for a questioning voter to sway his opinion.
As to the safety side, I did not hear one person out on the streets that day even mention that police report. To most people in Dracut it is forgotten and the Manager will deal with it.  But to the average taxpayer who has been living through this recession, it is still hard to give up any more money to government.  This vote would have supported very visible.. very concrete services.. and that swayed a lot of people, but not enough for this to succeed.
The Presidential election, I still propose, has sickened a lot of people with respect to politics.. and turned a lot more to no longer apathy but to disdain and disgust of politics and government.  I truly believe that had an impact here.
The Lowell Sun

True to form, Dracut voters rejected both the public-safety and school Proposition 2 1/2 overrides in Monday’s election, thus retaining its image as a town tight with a buck.

The two questions would have added $1.1 million spread around the community’s taxpayers, increasing the average annual residential tax bill by $106.

Actually, the public-safety override almost passed muster, failing by just 140 votes. It would have funded the hiring of six police officers and three firefighters. The school override for technology upgrades attracted far less support.

In hindsight, the selectmen’s decision to split the funding requests into two questions seems vindicated by the results. Together, there’s no doubt they were doomed to fail miserably.

If residents needed further reason to refuse this added tax burden, developments that occurred leading up to the election certainly reinforced their resolve.

On the school side, it was the 8 percent raise given Superintendent Steven Stone and lesser amounts to his top administrators. On the public-safety side, it was the scathing audit of the Police Department, which identified the majority of its officers as having no faith in the chief or deputy chief.

And voters apparently had no problem splitting their allegiance when it came to choosing winners and losers. The two candidates who campaigned against the overrides, incumbent Selectman Cathy Richardson and School Committee challenger Tim Woods, were both soundly defeated.

Obviously, Richardson also was saddled with those animal-cruelty allegations and the resulting August trial date, which more than likely sealed her fate.So now, top town officials must regroup and fashion municipal and school budgets without those override funds.

That will entail sacrifices that the majority of residents are apparently willing to make. Remember, that damning police audit also indicated that to meet the national average of police to residents, Dracut would need to hire an additional 19 officers — not just the six it sought.

So short of some basic reorganization of both Police and Fire departments, no more than three cruisers will be patrolling the town at any one time, and fire engines will often be deployed with just two firefighters.

And the school system, already near the bottom in the state for what it spends on its students, will spur more parents to send their children to private, parochial or charter schools.

That’s one way to consolidate school spending.

But it’s no way to run a municipal government.


Election Results 2015

A total of 5021 Voters out of 20695 participated in the election: 24%

On the override questions, they both went down (though not as bad as 3 years ago):

Q1: Safety: Y: 2409 (48%),  N: 2549 (51%) Blanks: 63

Q2: Education: Y:2146 (43%), N:2802 (56%) Blanks: 73

I had predicted a possibility of question 1 passing, but question 2 having a much harder time.

Compared to 2013, where there was nearly 80% against the override, a much greater percentage of the town has agreed there is a need for additional resources and was willing to provide it.  We, however, are a frugal town who are proud of doing more with less and require it of our government.  I just don’t see it continuing forever.  Where the cost of services keeps increasing and the revenue does not, we either have to decide to provide less, or find additional revenue elsewhere.

The safety question was very close, but the school question was damaged by the decision of the school committee to give significant administrative raises during this campaign.

The number of voters participating in these questions, yet not in the other races, shows that the voters were very opinionated in this election. They were going to choose on these wallet questions, and many decided to just support one candidate in the others, not giving a second vote or only voted for the questions.

For Library Trustee: Monique Verville

3886, Blanks: 1076

No opinion here, but shows that about 1075 voters were not participating in this and the next position (people who only came in to vote on the ballot questions?).

For Town Moderator: George Malliaros

3770 (75%), Blanks: 1090

This was expected. There are always people who skip this vote if they don’t know the candidate.


Jesse Forcier: 2753

Tony Archinski: 2575

Phil Thibault: 2083

Cathy Richardson: 1324

Blanks: 1266

I had predicted Tony first, Jesse second.  Jesse’s campaign efforts obviously turned that over, but the rest fell as I expected.

Jesse had great visibility, and was seen as being attacked unfairly and thus earned the vote by not responding negatively.  Being from the planning board and Housing showed his knowledge of the issues regarding town government and the housing needs of the town.

Tony has great respect throughout the town, and is very well organized. As an incumbent he is seen as a leader over the last year who kept the entire town working together trying to solve the economic situation.

Phil came in behind them by about 500 votes. He is a good worker, and on every committee shows great skills, but the townspeople just didn’t choose him as a leader. I still think there is an association here that has hurt him (though he did try to separate himself for the last month or so). The confusion of telling people he would vote for the override questions, but having people on the street holding his signs and vote No signs caused voters some issues as well.

Cathy has had her time. The pipeline company deciding to suspend their efforts undercut some of her efforts get support from that issue, and her personal issues regarding the court cases just did her in. People were just ready to move on.

School Committee:

Allison Volpe: 2900

Betsy Murphy: 2834

Tim Woods: 2208

Blanks: 2043

This fell exactly as I predicted.

Allison spent a year or more working to earn this seat. She attended every financial meeting regarding schools voluntarily to understand the budgets and decisions being made.

Betsy has worked hard on the committee for the last few years, making some difficult decisions. She is still respected with making decisions in the best interest of the schools (though many still believe has to work a little more on predicting the political ramifications of those decisions.. her heart is in the right place, but sometimes not her timing).

Tim was seen as running out of spite or revenge as was written in the Lowell Sun recently.  He was seen as having lost his position as Athletic Director and was thus attacked everything the School Committee had done and was out for the Superintendent.

His numbers I think are an indicator of the “angry voter” in this campaign, who is typically angry and mistrusting of government.

The dispute between he and Betsy allowed Allison to float to the top (as she stayed out of the fray), and Betsy was seen as “winning” the argument.

The 2000 blanks also showed that the school race had a significant number of people choosing to “bullet” vote their candidate.. voting just once, or even just voting only for the override questions.



Warren Shaw says Vote YES

During a call into 980 WCAP this morning, Warren Shaw discussed the override questions with Town Manager Jim Duggan, and gave his support to the override questions..

“This is a very reasonable request by the town government.. anybody who cares about providing legitimate services, regardless of what they are, wheter you’re in favor of good police protection, good fire protection, better schools, this is something everyone should support.”

Warren Shaw calls in to 980 WCAP

On his way home today, Warren Shaw took a few minutes to call in this morning to the show. He first said that he wanted to rebut his detractors, then gave an a summary of the excellent care he’s been getting from the local doctors and hospitals.

Following that, in a short discussion with Town Manager Jim Duggan he repeated his support for the override questions on the Monday Election ballot in Dracut.

Technology saves on Phone, Increases Safety

As we continue presenting the discussion with Superintendent Steven Stone from last weekend’s 980 WCAP Saturday Morning Live, here we present a caller who was pointing out the savings in converting from legacy telephone to VOIP phone systems.  This system will utilize the network that has been installed (much like most phones in our homes do now), increasing the safety of our children at the schools.

This is a reminder to Vote YES on both the ballot questions this Monday.

Financial Needs Exemption available for those at risk

A caller, Dottie from Dracut, asked about the possible increase in the elderly tax exemption on the 980 WCAP Saturday Morning Live with Warren Shaw radio show.

Allison Hughes took on the issue, replying that it is actually a needs based exemption for any family currently having a problem paying their taxes.  The number of taxpayers in this need is very small, and the revenue is made up across the rest of the taxpayers on much less than pennies on the dollar.

Tim Woods rumor hits the Lowell Sun Gossip Column

A story that his detractors (enemies) have been pushing for years on the internet was finally debunked today in the Lowell Sun Column.

Instead of the “he crashed into a parked car and ran,” the story and facts show that none of that was true. There was an accident with no injuries, but it was handled professionally and reported openly to the Police and School administration.

In speaking with both Volpe and Murphy myself, I know that neither of them have been digging this up or supporting the spreading of this story.

7-year-old crash a factor in Dracut?

The Lowell Sun
DRACUT TOWN elections are one week from tomorrow so, of course, innuendo and accusations are as common as the town’s crazy network of political websites, chat-rooms and blogs.

On the receiving end of much of the speculation this year is Tim Woods, a former School Committee member and Dracut High School athletic director who is looking to rejoin the committee by criticizing just about everything the current committee is doing.

Woods’ critics say neither he nor the School Department has been fully open about what happened in the early-afternoon hours of Dec. 5, 2008, at Long Meadow Golf Club in Lowell.

If you ask the anonymous denizens of the Internet and newspaper tip lines, Woods, who was the district’s athletic director at the time, crashed into a parked car while driving a school van and fled the scene, and the incident was then covered up.

If you ask the Lowell Police Department and Dracut public schools, the story is a little less salacious. According to the crash report from the incident, Woods was leaving the golf course about 1 p.m., when he sideswiped the front left bumper of a parked car.

In an interview, he said he was at Long Meadow with the athletic directors of other area schools, who met there on a weekly basis.

Woods got out of the school van and exchanged registration information with the driver of the parked car, according to the police report. He then left to go pick up supplies for the high-school Super Bowl game, Woods said.

A few minutes later, the School Department got a call from the daughter of the owner of the car Woods struck.

She wanted to get the department’s insurance information, according to a School Department memo.Fifteen minutes after that, the Lowell Police Department called the School Department and said Woods needed to promptly return to the parking lot to answer some questions or he would be charged with leaving the scene of the accident.

Woods said he did return and answered the officers’ questions, which had to do with insurance. He was never arrested or charged with any wrongdoing.

The cost to repair the van was estimated at about $1,000, according to insurance documents.

Why is this coming up now?

“It’s obvious that my opponents want to talk about issues of anything other than the campaign,” Woods said.

Neither Allison Volpe nor incumbent Betsy Murphy, the two people Woods is running against, chose to make an issue of the 2008 incident when asked about it.

But you don’t have to go far online to find those who will.