Police chief’s departure marks fourth department head loss this year

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • The Wilton Board of Selectmen met on Monday, Oct. 31 -- Halloween night -- with Director of the Public Works Department Steve Elliott to discuss winter snow removal gear. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, November 14, 2017 9:43AM

In the space of less than a year, Wilton has been faced with replacing four major department heads, including the fire department, ambulance, department of public works, and now the police department. 

“It’s significant,” said Select Board member Kermit Williams of the turnover. “It’s certainly unusual, for sure.”

 Former Fire Chief Ray Dick cited “politics” as his reason for retirement, after feeling blindsided by a suggestion that the fire and ambulance combine facilities. When Ambulance Chief Gary Zirpolo resigned, he said too-long hours for too-little pay was a motivator and has joined an ambulance service in Massachusetts. Police Chief Brent Hautanen is pursuing a new career unrelated to law enforcement in the private sector, seeking something with more regular hours. DPW director Steve Elliott has been off the job since his termination in October.

When asked about whether the exodus of department heads would lead to any changes in pay structure or how the departments were handled, Select Board member Kellie-Sue Boissonnault said that the personnel changes had been “personal decisions” made by those people and that they were “due to circumstances beyond the town’s control.”

Williams said that the board won’t be pursuing any changes to the pay structure or management of the departments as a result of the fast turnover, saying “I think everybody who left had different reasons.”

Pay, he said, may have been a factor in some of those decisions, but was not the whole reason behind the resignations. Some, he said, may have been uncomfortable with management changes in town, with the departments coming under the umbrella of the Town Administrator, a new position implemented in 2016. 

Boissonnault said that Hautanen’s retirement had been planned for some time, and that it wasn’t indicative of an overlying issue, calling the timing of his resignation “unfortunate timing.”

Newly appointed Ambulance Chief Steven Desrosiers and Fire Chief Jim Cutler have both had management experience in their respective fields, and Cutler had been a member of the Fire Department for a number of years before his promotion, but neither have been in the role of chief.

“I don’t think it’s wrong to have young leadership,” said Boissonnault. “New blood will bring a new culture to those departments.”

Earlier this year, Select Board member Kermit Williams said that despite Zirpolo’s claims of low pay, he felt that the pay offered by the town was adequate. According to the Wilton 2016 town report, the ambulance supervisor received a wage of $61,325. That’s comparable to Peterborough’s ambulance director, who is paid a salary of $64,428.

Desrosiers is a recent addition to the Wilton Ambulance, having been hired as a paramedic about four months prior to being considered for the position of ambulance chief. In an interview Monday, he said that pay will be among the issues he’d like to address as the ambulance chief, but said the issue for him was more the part-time employees pay, rather than his own.

Per diem paramedics in Wilton make $14-$21.50 per hour based on experience, according to a current advertisement for positions on Wilton’s website. 

On average, EMTs in Manchester make $31,900, and paramedics $40,440 per year, while in Boston, the averages are $33,459 for EMTs and $42,416. 

Hautanen’s salary was a little over $79,000, which is in line with or above several surrounding towns, including Lyndeborough at $56,300, Temple-Greenville at $77,400.

Searching for a new chief

The search is on for a replacement police chief in Wilton, including within the existing police department.

“We’re in the process right now of hiring,” said Boissonnault in an interview Monday. “We’re taking comment from the current chief, and his recommendations, and we’re reviewing all of the options available.”

Wilton Police Chief Brent Hautanen put in his notice of retirement in October, with plans for a last day of Nov. 30, meaning that there is a short window to put a replacement in place, but Boissonnault said it would be her preference to go through a final hiring process, rather than appoint an interim employee within that time frame. 

“My goal is to make certain that we have someone in place before he leaves,” she said.

Williams agreed that a hire within the next few weeks was likely, and echoed the sentiment that the new chief was “most likely” to come from an internal promotion. 

“When you hire from within, you can keep what I think is really good cohesiveness within the department,” said Williams. 

Boissonnault confirmed that the board is looking at candidates within the department and that she personally hopes that the new chief will be an internal hire, saying it would be a “disservice” if the town had a candidate that they didn’t promote properly.

The town has yet to interview anyone for the other open department head, that of the department of public works. The board may review the job requirements if they are unable to secure resumes with the current requirements.

A new ambulance chief

Earlier this month, the Select Board officially appointed Desrosiers to fill the empty ambulance chief position. 

Desrosiers has always been fascinated by the medical field, he said in an interview Monday, likely because his father was crippled by cardiac issues from the time he was born. 

Right after high school, Desrosiers joined an ambulance crew, and has made it his career, almost 30 years ago. He has been in management since 1998, working as an operations manager and supervisor on ambulance crews. Most of his experience has been with Massachusetts crews, but he has also served on the Milford Ambulance for the past four years.

Desrosiers has spent the last week looking into ways to improve the ambulance, including looking at facility needs, which he said will have to be addressed, hopefully within the coming year, and restructuring the part-time pay for EMTs and paramedics.