Police Chief out under “Mutual Agreement” (Updated – Minutes released)

Right: Chief Paulhus’ indefinite leave came to an end with his mutually agreed upon departure, and as few details as before. (photo cropped from SPD Facebook post)

[Update: The Town just released several related Executive Session minutes (with someredactions made by Town Counsel). These include sessions where the stated reason for exemption from public session was “contract negotiations with non-union personnel”.]***

This morning, the Select Board issued a press release. It announced that Chief Kenneth Paulhus is no longer Southborough’s Police Chief.

In keeping with past refusal to share any details, the announcement was quite brief:

The Southborough Select Board and Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus announced today a mutual agreement that his employment with the Town would not continue beyond May 31, 2022. The Board and Mr. Paulhus have reached a written Agreement to address the balance of certain contractual benefits under his existing Employment Contract with the Town.

The timing of release of this statement was agreed to by the parties.

Paulhus had just entered his 8th year of serving Southborough when he suddenly went on/was placed on leave. The action immediately followed his participation in a closed emergency Executive Session on February 28th to:

discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of an individual, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual.

The Town refused to comment at that time, but I was able to confirm and report that on March 2nd that Southborough Police Lieutenant Ryan Newell was the Acting Chief. (Although there are still some references to Chief Paulhus on the Town website, the Staff page has been updated to remove Paulhus’ name and list Newell as the Chief.)

At the Annual Town Meeting last month, the Select Board refused to explain the Chief’s leave. 

Questions were raised by residents prior to voting on the annual budget for the Southborough Police Department. Treasurer Brian Ballantine confirmed that it included the Chief’s salary. The Board wouldn’t clarify whether the Town was still paying Paulhus or answer how long the situation might continue.

Upon repeated questioning, officials referred to Executive Session as the reason they couldn’t comment on the situation. Chair Lisa Braccio said commenting wouldn’t be fair to the Chief. 

This past Tuesday’s Select Board agenda ended with a closed Executive Session for two items. The first was “to discuss a Police grievance”.

Given the final statement of the press release about pre-determined timing, it is possible the grievance didn’t directly relate to the Chief. (The term has been used in the past, including for an Executive Session on January 4th.) Another Executive Session earlier this spring that may have been related was on April 5th. Confidential topics included an “ongoing personnel matter”.

The most recent employment agreement for Paulhus was approved on February 25th, covering employment through July 1, 2023.

It appears to have been an extension of the prior agreement, which included the following termination clause:

The Chief may be suspended or discharged for just cause, upon proper notice and only after a hearing at which time the Chief shall have the right to be present, to be represented by counsel, and to cross-examine witnesses and to provide witnesses to speak on his behalf The Board or its designee shall, upon notice of an alleged infraction or occurrence giving rise to possible disciplinary action of the Chief, initiate an investigation as to the facts surrounding said allegation. The Board shall endeavor to complete said investigation within a reasonable period of time. Upon completion of the investigation, the Board shall determine whether further action is warranted. The Chief shall be notified forthwith of the results of the Board’s determination. If the Board finds that a hearing is required, the Chief shall be duly notified in writing of the date, time and location of the hearing, and the reasons for calling the hearing and make findings, conclusions and recommendations. To the extent allowed by law, the Chief shall have the option of choosing whether any such hearing shall be closed to the public or be held as an open hearing. The Board of Selectmen shall render decisions as soon as possible after the close of the hearing. A decision to discipline, suspend or discharge the Chief shall require a majority vote by the Board.

Minutes specified the extended agreement would include the following raises for the period from February 11, 2020 through now:

The first year includes a 3% increase in salary, an Accreditation Stipend of $7,300 and the $400 longevity per the Salary Administration Plan. The second year includes a 3% increase on salary, an Accreditation Stipend of $7,500 and the $400 longevity per the Salary Administration Plan. The third year includes a 3% increase in salary, an Accreditation Stipend of $7,800 and the $400 longevity per the Salary Administration Plan.

The agreement’s ratification was unusual. It was voted on in a Closed Executive Session on February 25, 2022* with no contract ever publicly posted. The minutes weren’t publicly posted until October 22, 2020.

In 2015, resident Desiree Aselbekian alleged that the Board of Selectmen hid a raise for Town Administrator Mark Purple by voting on it in Closed Session. The Attorney General’s Office agreed that the Board violated Open Meeting Law. In that instance the AG’s office focused on the Board conducting the evaluation in closed session. (Though, at the time the determination letter was written, the AG was aware that the Board had tried to rectify violations by voting again on the contract agreement and raise in open session. I can’t find any record of a follow up public vote on Paulhus’ raise.)

Paulhus’ evaluations didn’t take place in Executive Session since they were contracted to be conducted annually by Purple. How consistently those were taking place is unclear.

At Candidates Night this April, former Personnel Board Chair Betsy Rosenbloom raised her concern that Purple may not be filing annual reviews of his employees. She asked member Sam Stivers if the practice had changed since a July 2020 meeting.

In the 2020 discussion, Purple told the Board of Selectmen he sometimes he prefers conversations to written evaluations. He stated that could vary by employee, year to year. He specifically cited Paulhus as an example. Referring to frequent conversations they had, Purple indicated they negated the need for a formal annual evaluation of goal related performance. At that time, Stivers responded that he saw the value in having some of that in writing as a baseline.

This spring, Rosenbloom noted that if you have a problem employee, it’s difficult when there are no written reviews marking progress. She asked if formal reviews were now being done. Stivers agreed with her assessment and responded he believed they were being done.

Paulhus came from the Woonsocket Police Department. At the time of his hiring, there was a vocal contingent in Town pushing for an internal candidate. He was initially hired at a salary rate below his predecessor. The Board sought to address that in 2016 when they approved a 15% raise.**

Some readers will likely contrast the Select Board’s secrecy around Paulhus’ probation this spring with the handling another Executive Session matter with overlapping timing this year.

In January, the Board issued a letter to then-Chair of the Historical Commission requiring him to meet to discuss ethics charges. Circumstances around posted materials led to him publicly acknowledging their accusations. His comments included calling the timing of Board’s complaint “highly suspect”. In response, the Board publicly commented defended their actions. From there, both parties continued to air grievances in public despite talks also taking place in Executive Session.

In the case of Paulhus, up until the joint release, there appear to have been no public statements made by the now former Chief. Still, it’s notable that the Board never issued a statement publicly acknowledging that Paulhus was on leave and an Acting Chief serving in his place. They also avoided making any references in their public meeting.

*Other Executive Session Minutes covering discussions leading up to the 2020 successor agreement were also released in October 2020: January 7, 2020; January 21, 2020; February 4, 2020

**(The discussion leading up to the 2016 raise is still redacted in Executive Session minutes, as are the minutes in 2017 for negotiation discussions on that agreement.)

***Updated (6/2/22 4:59 pm): I’ll need some time to read and digest the newly released minutes from this year’s Executive Sessions. But I can point you to the links for now:  February 28, April 5, May 5, May 9, May 17

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roxanneperro2@gmail.com
29 days ago

I think we’ve seen enough failures on Mr. Purple part. He has failed this town, and the residents
regarding St Marks Park, Cell Tower debacle, continued employment of Ms. Galligan, a skirt chasing police chief, with no documented yearly evaluation of the chief in writing. If this were a well run town, instead of a piece of real estate looking to be sold to the highest bidder, Monsieur Purple would go the way of the chief. Brings me back to our previous Board of selectmen member, honorable Mr. Christainsen, who did time in aka college.

Patricia Burns Fiore
29 days ago

After reading this post, I sent the following letter to the select board. I think we are entitled to some answers.

Kathy, et al

I just read the information from the SB press release as published on mysouthborough.com. Since this states his employment ended 5/31, could you please explain why the Select Board (you) said last night (6/1) at 10:30 pm he was still being paid a salary by the taxpayers of Southborough? Is he now being paid a salary even though he is no longer employed?

What, if any, severance is he being paid and/or what are the taxpayers of Southborough CURRENTLY paying the ex-Police Chief, and if anything is being paid, what is the obligation for that?

Since there are apparently no written annual reviews done by the Town Administrator and all of this was done in secret by the SB (as evidenced in the highly redacted minutes), how are the taxpayers of this town to know what exactly happened to this police chief, whether this is something that should have been (as some say) handled much earlier, whether there are future issues regarding this employment and/or consequences of past employment and, how much this is all costing us?

And, why we are at it, could you also tell me:

Why there is no salary listed in the employment contract for Mark Purple? Isn’t that odd that an employment contract does not actually state a salary? It refers to the salary administrative plan (SAP) for compensation but nowhere in the most recent SAP on the town website (revised at June 13, 2020) does it list what grade or salary is paid to the Town Administrator. Where is that information?

Why would the town agree to a 10 MONTH SEVERANCE for the Town Administrator if he is fired for cause?

What is the status of contract negotiations with DPW Supt. Karen Galligan and does her ask include a clause for a six month severance even if fired for cause?

I really question the SB’s ability to negotiate contracts that are fair to taxpayers – who EMPLOY these individuals.

And, I am extremely disappointed this new board provided such disingenuous information last night.

Patrica Burns Fiore
29 days ago

Apparently, technically, the ex-chief is on the town payroll until the end of his contract – 13 MONTHS FROM NOW (6/30/23) and on the roster through 9/12/22 (so he can find a new job without a black mark on the record?)! Something was so wrong that it is all kept secret, he has not worked, having been on (PAID) leave since 2/28/22 and we will be paying his salary for SIXTEEN MONTHS after he apparently did something(s) so grievous that he could not work for the town for one more day nor could any of the details be discussed then or now. And, no written employment reviews to refer to (although part of said contract). So we continue to pay the $165K plus perks, increases and benefits for a year and a half. Who exactly is it that negotiates the salary contracts for the people this town hires, because I am obviously working with the wrong people and need that number.

Townie
28 days ago

Correct me if I’m wrong. The BOS & Purple negotiate with department heads. Purple negotiates with unions on the BOS’s behalf.

resident
28 days ago

Great points, Patricia. However, what has been left unsaid by all involved is that not only are we paying him and probably through his term to be able to receive a pension from our town. But we will be paying for another Chief to take over or a salary increase for LT. Newell who is acting Chief at this point, although they are not calling him acting Chief on the Southborough PD website. In addition, if they move LT. Newell to Chief they need to now hire a new LT or move up one of the Sargents and replace that Sargent, and it keeps rolling on. This will cost us thousands and thousands of dollars in the long run. You have to wonder if there had been completed annual reviews documented and not “under the table, secret” conversations, would this have happened? Probably not since there would have been goals and actions set up…or would there have been? What exactly is Mark Purple doing going rogue on so many things in his control? Why is he still in the position of power when he can’t seem to do anything correctly. Who exactly is minding the town? Some department heads seem to be running wild. The Police Chief, Galligan, Purple, who is next??

Of note from Roxanne’s post, nothing has been said about the Police Chief being a skirt chaser. I hate to see somebody accused of something they are not guilty of and we will never know exactly why he was removed. It’s a secret!!

Al Hamilton
28 days ago

The lack of written reviews is a managerial malpractice. I worked for a variety of entities some smaller than the Town of Southborough (Revenue <$50 million) and always had a written review that included the good the bad and the ugly. These reviews also set out formal goals for the next year. Performance against those goals was then a component of my evaluation for the next year.

Goal setting and feed back on performance is one of the key responsibilities of a manager. Not doing this is a fairly formal fashion is a failure to manage.

Regarding the issues related to the former chief, no, we do not have the right to all the details of the reason for his departure. Severance and non disclosure are the price we pay for avoiding an ugly, embarrassing and expensive day in court. In these sort of matters I am willing to cut the SB some slack (although their recent performance make that more difficult).

If you don't like how the SB handled this matter you can always take out papers and offer your services to the electorate.

Townie
28 days ago

One of the biggest issues with how this town evaluates department heads is that the town administrator and the BOS are the sole people who evaluate the performance of said employee. There’s nothing about peer reviews. Internal problems will never come to light using this process. It seems the SPD have had to endure years in this toxic environment from the Chief which went unchecked due to the lack acknowledgment from Town Hall because, well, they don’t work with them on the daily. Their performance is purely base on objectives. Meet those objectives, you get a raise. Nothing about how personable the department head is. Nothing about how to interact with the community, or how they operate internally. Paul his may have met objectives, but he did it while completely destroying any sort of morale there was in the department. That’s a red flag in my eyes.

I hope Purple and BOS member read this, you need to take departments as a whole (all employees) into your considerations when giving our department heads performance reviews. A “conversation” doesn’t cut it in the professional sector.

Former Resident
24 days ago

I was troubled to read about the Chief’s departure ..As far as I knew, the Chief and the Department were held in the highest regard since he took over with much needed new ideas. In reading the info, something does not appear right. The town offered the buyout and negotiated it for weeks. Looks like the town didn’t want a hearing and was willing to pay significantly to avoid it. Maybe records related to grievances and IA complaints would shed some light. I would like to know what some of the officers have sitting there. Probably some serious stuff that all PD’s accumulate over the years. Also, only one supervisor had any knowledge? What does that say? Not holding my breath for the TA or B.O.S. to provide any answers based on the history.

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