A spillover crowd of Edgartown residents filled the town hall meeting room, the adjoining lobby, and even the stairway to the second floor at Monday’s selectmen’s meeting. Many were on hand to see Alexander Schaeffer sworn in as the town’s new fire chief, and to acknowledge retiring Chief Peter Shemeth for his 40-plus years at the department.
The majority were on hand to hear how the town will select its next police chief.
The smooth transition of leadership within the Edgartown Fire Department was in stark contrast to the apparent division in the ranks of the Edgartown Police Department, which officers spoke about candidly. Most spoke in favor of bringing in a new chief from outside the department.
The 45-minute discussion began with Richard Stanley, retired North Andover/Wareham police chief, and partner in Tewksbury-based Integrity Testing with retired Tewksbury Police Chief Alfred P. Donovan, laying out his company’s plans.
“This is a process tailored to your community,” he said. “We want to make sure in Edgartown you get exactly what you’re looking for in a police administrator, and tailor the exam process to make sure your needs are met.”
Mr. Stanley said the position will be advertised widely, with postings at the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the Massachusetts Police Association, and the Massachusetts Police Training Institute.
“We’ll reach a large number of candidates through that process,” he said. “Applicants will contact town hall for applications; we’ll receive the applications at Integrity Testing, and develop a list of qualified applicants.”
Integrity Testing will provide a list of eight to 12 candidates to the selection committee, and develop an evaluation process of exercises and tests, tailored to address local issues. “We also look at group discussions where candidates all together work out problems,” he said. “That’s where the cream rises to the top. We videotape these exercises and go over them. It isn’t arbitrary and capricious. There are certain points people have to hit to score.”
After the selection committee meets with the candidates, the top three selections will go before the board of selectmen for formal public interviews, where they will be evaluated on oral communication, public presentation, and innovative problem-solving skills based on issues germane to Edgartown.
Selectman Art Smadbeck announced the selection committee — Edgartown School Principal John Stevens, Council on Aging Director Paul Mohair, Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer, human resources coordinator Kim Lucas, and former Police Chief David Rossi.
Call for change
Explaining the rationale for using outside consultants, Mr. Smadbeck explained, “Last time we went with a process that many people felt was incorrect, and that we needed to have a wider net and we needed to do a better job of vetting candidates. So we thought this is probably what we ought to do.”
The hiring process does not necessarily exclude officers already with the department, Mr. Smadbeck said. “We tried it that way last time, got a lot of criticism, even though a [consultant] had been recommended to us, we chose not to do that. It seemed like now we should do it this way.”
Responding to a question from the public, former Chief Rossi said Integrity Testing was chosen for the job because the company submitted the lowest of three bids, $9,500, which was $500 less than the second-place bid.
Speaking for the Edgartown Patrolman’s Union, Officer Jeffrey Trudel, reading from a prepared statement, requested that former Chief Rossi not be on the selection committee. “The patrolmen embrace a transparent and objective process in seeking a new police chief, but we do not think that can be accomplished with former Chief Rossi participating in the hiring process,” he said. “A few members of the Edgartown Police Department have expressed interest in applying for the vacant chief’s spot. Invariably Chief Rossi acting as past police chief has formed opinions of each member of the police department … Chief Rossi has intimate knowledge that may create a conscious or unconscious bias that would prevent an objective opinion of these individuals.”
To incorporate local law enforcement expertise, the union requested that Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake replace Mr. Rossi, citing his 15 years of experience, his tenure as the president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police, and his knowledge of Integrity Testing, which he hired to evaluate two sergeant candidates in Oak Bluffs.
The union also requested that a union member be included on the selection committee, or that members be given the opportunity to meet with final candidates in a group forum, similar to when Principal John Stevens met with teachers at the Edgartown School before his hiring.
“The idea of a chief from another [Island] town is an interesting idea,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “You’ve made some interesting suggestions. We’ll take it under advisement. Right now, I think we have to move forward with what we have.”
“To be clear, I was asked to put this together, it’s not that I’m wanting to do it, trust me,” Mr. Rossi said. “A lot of criticisms were made when I was made chief. This is fair and equitable.”
Lt. Chris Dolby, a 25-year veteran, spoke frankly about internal strife, and made a forceful argument for hiring the next chief from outside the department.
“There’s a lot of stuff circling around, and it’s painful to beat around the bush,” he said. “We have some internal issues in our department. It’s nothing that’s going to get us on Channel 5 news, but stemming from when Jack Collins came in, and Rossi was made chief and I got made lieutenant. We’ve made a lot of strides in the department, we got certified, we got accredited, but that whole process left some bad taste in people’s mouths. We haven’t recovered from that process … We have internal issues that have to be dealt with. If you ask these guys and they’re honest with you, they’re not happy in our workplace. That doesn’t make me want to jump into that chief’s position; it makes me want to get that problem solved.”
Lt. Dolby said Sgt. Craig Edwards would be the likely candidate for chief if selectmen stayed within the department.
“My personal opinion is that if we have a candidate from inside, this stuff is just going to keep on going. I’m all for trying to keep it in. I’m asking the selectmen this time to not keep it in. We need help. I’m asking the board of selectmen to give us a professional, proven police chief, that knows what he or she is doing, is not going to have to learn on the job and figure it out. We tried that route, it led us to this. Let us work for a professional police chief this go-round. It’s not going to change our philosophy on the street. We take pride in how we handle ourselves.”
Sgt. Michael Gazaille, a 30-year veteran, agreed with Lt. Dolby. “We are having problems internally; we need somebody from outside,” he said. “We tried [promoting within] and it didn’t work. Honestly, including myself, I don’t think we have anyone qualified to fix the problem. If you want to be chief someday, there’s certain things you need to do, there’s certain education you need to get, and I don’t think anyone has done that. At this point, we need to go outside.”
Lt. Dolby has stated on several previous occasions that he does not want to be considered for the job at this time. “I’d love to be chief someday, but now’s not the right time for a lot of reasons,” he said.
Officer Trudel said he believes current police personnel should be considered for the job.
“I think there are some people within the department who can do the job,” Sgt. Edwards said. “I don’t think we need someone from outside.”
Ending the discussion, an Edgartown woman stated her concern that an off-Island candidate would put in three years, move on, collect a big pension, and leave the town paying for a fourth retired police chief.
To address her concerns, Mr. Stanley spoke in detail about how he took over as chief of the Wareham Police Department, and brought order to a department in disarray.
“That’s not what I asked,” she said.