Bristol police chief search hits snag

BRISTOL — The Bristol Police District will not get a new police chief by July 1, as had been hoped.
The Bristol selectboard was slated to conduct June 25 public interviews of the final two candidates, whose names are being withheld.
That plan was scrapped, however, after the five-member Police Chief Review Committee (PCRC) raised a number of concerns at the June 11 selectboard meeting.
The PCRC was formed April 2 to review candidates for the position and make recommendations to the selectboard, but the selectboard recently relieved the committee of some of its duties.
“We were charged to carry out a process whereby we would make recommendations to you folks,” PCRC member Helen Maciejewski said. “So when we got an email from (Town Administrator Valerie Capels) saying you had decided to short-circuit the process and do this yourselves, we were a little shocked and surprised, because we haven’t made any recommendations. We haven’t even done the background checks.”
Wary of the confidential information those background checks might produce, the selectboard had reassigned the duties to Capels.
The selectboard should never have charged the PCRC with that duty in the first place, explained selectboard member Ted Lylis.
“We made a mistake with that,” he said. “We mentioned (the background checks) to a lawyer from the New England Police Benevolent Association, and he said, ‘You shouldn’t have a committee do that. You’re asking for big trouble.’”
PCRC members James Quaglino and Terri Thomsen protested.
“So you’re thinking that civilians — us — are not held to a high enough standard, ethically, confidentially,” Thomsen said.
“We could have a confidentiality agreement that we would adhere to,” said Quaglino. “They do it all the time in business. We should be an unbiased organization and we’re getting hit with all these roadblocks. I took it personally as a slap on my credibility and integrity.”
Selectboard member John “Peeker” Heffernan assured the PCRC that the selectboard wasn’t questioning anyone’s integrity.
Maciejewski didn’t take it personally, she said, but she questioned the selectboard’s focus:
“You started a process and you undermined yourselves and you undermined all of us. This isn’t just about our hurt feelings, it’s about your relationship with the rest of the town that you’re accountable to. I did this because I love living in Bristol. I thought, ‘Here’s something that I can do to show my appreciation for being part of this community.’ For anything like this, you live and die by your process, and so far this hasn’t been a very good process.”
PCRC member Ron LaRose agreed.
“You charged five people to sit on a committee and we were doing our due diligence,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, without much notice or explanation, you pulled the rug out from under us. We’re upset that we spent this time for no reason.”
The fifth member of the PCRC, selectboard member Michelle Perlee, acknowledged that the selectboard’s instructions to the committee had been unclear.
The selectboard had hoped to receive 10 to 12 applications for the police chief position, Heffernan said, but they received only four.
Maciejewski and Quaglino blamed this in part on inadequate advertising.
“Even understanding that finances were an issue, the five of us came up with a number of ways we could’ve broadly spread the word that wouldn’t have cost the town anything,” Maciejewski said. “We asked you folks to consider stepping back and re-advertising so that we could get the word out more broadly throughout the law enforcement community, at least in Vermont, if not regionally. And you turned us down on that.”
Quaglino also raised doubts about the competitiveness of the police chief’s salary.
“The salary is comparable to the road department,” he pointed out. “Not to put anything against the road department but the chief of police is a very, very important position. This person can make decisions that can affect this community forever.”
LaRose recalled hearing that the town had a policy in place to hire from within if it wants to.
“If that’s true, why did you seek out a committee to screen applicants when you could have done it yourself?”
According to a section of the Bristol Personnel Policy provided to the Independent by Capels, the selectboard is solely responsible for decisions regarding recruitment and internal promotion.
LaRose’s question went unanswered at the June 11 meeting.
Later that evening the selectboard decided upon the following, according to Capels:
•  Push back the July 1 goal for having a police chief seated. No date was selected but it could be as far out as September.
•  Reschedule the June 25 public interview of the two finalists to a date to be determined.
•  Look into hiring an independent professional to conduct the background checks, then meet with the PCRC to discuss the results.
It is entirely at the selectboard’s discretion to scrap the current applications and reopen the recruitment process, Capels said, but they have chosen not to.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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