Select Board debates criteria for new police chief
Part-time position advertised; town seeking candidates with bachelor’s degrees, at least five years supervisory experience
LYNDEBOROUGH — Select Board members agreed on a job description for a police chief at their meeting Wednesday and they plan to start recruiting candidates as early as next week. The job will be a part-time, 32 hour a week position.
Board members agreed that the person they hire must agree to live within 20 miles driving distance of the town line within 12 months of accepting the job. They also decided not to establish a probationary period for the new chief, but they plan to do a quarterly review during the person’s first year on the job.
“Even with a probationary period, if something goes wrong, we’d never be able to fire him,” said Select Board Chair Kevin Boette, who has opposed having a police chief instead of the current officer-in-charge system. Boette has said on several occasions that state statutes provide so much protection to a chief that any attempt to fire a chief inevitably ends up in court and costs a town significant money.
But Boette and Select Board member Arnie Byam both said prior to the March election that they would follow through on hiring a chief if that was the will of the voters. And in March, voters at Town Meeting narrowly approved a petition warrant article directing the board to hire a police chief.
Lt. Rance Deware has been Lyndeborough’s officer in charge since June 2012, when he was named to the part-time job after Thomas Burke resigned, charging that selectmen had been interfering with management of the department.
The third Select Board member, former Milford Police Chief Fred Douglas, who was elected to the board in March, requested at Wednesday’s meeting that wording be added to the job description, specifying that the chief would be operating under the provisions of N.H. RSA 105, which includes wording regarding the process required to fire a police chief. Under that law, chiefs can be dismissed only for cause and after being given a written specification of the reasons. The chief would then be entitled to petition for a hearing in Superior Court, and the court could reverse or adjust the dismissal.
Boette and Byam agreed to add the wording Douglas requested.
The job description calls for the chief to be supervised by the Select Board. Douglas disagreed with that, saying, “I feel the police chief should answer directly to the town administrator.” Burton Reynolds, the town’s acting town administrator, noted that Select Boards have the authority to delegate supervisory tasks to the town administrator, and Douglas went on to suggest that he saw no reason for the Select Board to meet with the officer in charge or the heads of the highway and fire departments at each Select Board meeting.
Boette suggested holding off on making any procedural change while the town is still working on a temporary basis with Reynolds, who is helping out on a part-time basis while Town Administrator Kate Thorndike is on medical leave. The board made no change to the wording of the police chief job description, leaving the Select Board as the supervisors of the chief.
The board also debated whether they should require police chief applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.
“I want some who has both a degree and experience,” Boette said. “If we set the bar high and no one applies, we can soften it.”
Douglas said many experienced police officers do not have bachelor’s degrees. He said significant supervisory or management experience should be allowed to substitute for a degree.
After additional discussion, the board settled on a working job posting, which was placed on the town’s website last week. It call for candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, or related field, from an accredited college or university and a minimum of 10 years experience in state or local police work, with a minimum of five years in supervisory or management position, including at least three years in a second-level management position. It also states that each year of supervisory or management experience beyond five years may be substituted for a year of formal education and each year of formal education may be substituted for one year of supervisory or management experience.
Board members agreed to post the position for three weeks. They are still in the process of recruiting experienced officers to sit on a vetting panel that would review candidates.
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.