Select Board personnel decisions: Police Chief recruitment, DPW agreements, and IT new hire (Updated)

The Select Board covered a lot of items on Tuesday night. I’m rounding up a few readers may care about related to important staff positions in town: Recruiting a new Police Chief, approving the 3-year contract for the DPW Superintendent, extending the Tree Warden position under the DPW, and finally hiring an IT Specialist (sort of).

Police Chief Hiring Process

This was the first regular meeting of the Board since news was made public of Chief Paulhus “retirement” following his four month leave. On Tuesday, the Board voted to extend Lieutenant Ryan Newell’s Acting Chief status to July 12th. The Board later voted unanimously to conduct an internal search to replace Paulhus.

Interested members of the Southborough Police Department are encouraged to submit a letter of interest and resume by June 27th. (They were to receive an email yesterday.)

In the meantime, the Town Administrator will solicit quotes from consultants with options for 1-3+ candidates, background check, references, and psychological exams or potentially an assessment center. The Board will meet on Tuesday, June 28th to discuss the next steps based on that information and they applications they receive.

Members had varying, overlapping reasons for an internal search. Chelsea Malinowski (who Chaired the meeting)* introduced that pros included the the Board’s emphasis to Public Safety over the years on succession planning, a lot of seniority in the dept, and that it’s a faster, less disruptive process.

Lisa Braccio said she believed they have what they are looking for within the department. She noted the dept had been through a lot and seemed to have interest in an internal search. Andrew Dennington was concerned about the five months projected for an external search. He noted the leadership position had been vacant since February. A more complicated external search wouldn’t necessarily yield better results.

Sam Stivers generally prefers external searches for the Public Safety chiefs. But given circumstances, he favored a quicker search this time. Kathy Cook* agreed with the others. She pointed out that if they don’t get what they need they can broaden the search. She urged getting going as quickly as possible.

DPW Superintendent Contract Renewed

There were some public comments/objections but no surprises. The Board voted to approve the 3-year successor agreement for Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan. 

On Tuesday afternoon, I posted about a letter Patricia Burns Fiore wrote to the Board and blog listing negative anonymous comments that she said were from dozens of anonymous concerned taxpayers. At the start of the meeting under Public Comments, Fiore read the introductory page and asked the Board to heed the attached comments. (Click here for the letter and details of the agreement.)

Later Dennington, who was credited with negotiating the agreement, explained that the contract represented a 2% raise. That’s lower than the raise given this year to non-union personnel under the Salary Administration Plan. He stressed that a new condition was that future raises would be based on written Performance Evaluations. (Later, Malinowski clarified that Galligan’s evaluations have conducted in writing every year – at least since 2020.**)

The Board will have the opportunity to provide input on the evaluations. Their plan is to create measurable goals and work to support her ability to achieve them. He then moved to approve the contract which was immediately seconded.

Ganted permission to ask a question, Fiore asked if the evaluation would be public. Initially, she was told that only Town Administrator Mark Purple’s evaluation is public. Since the Board conducts it, it is subject to Open Meeting Law. But they were unsure whether other confidential evaluations were just based on policy. Purple said he would have to check with Labor Counsel. Malinowski promised to follow up on the question.

Fiore expressed upset that she believed the DPW head had made “really serious mistakes” over the past couple of years with “absolutely no repurcussions”. She said that a contract was giving her more money and the Board never publicly discussed the issues. She questioned if they were making the best decisions with her taxpayer money

Malinowski said she was confident the board had heard what people have said and were putting measures in place to be more supportive of the DPW. She said they already started with some. She followed that residents are always welcome to bring their issues forward and thanked Fiore for the list she put together that will help them. She believed approving the contract was the best decision.

At this point, Dennington pushed to cut off dialogue, calling for a vote on his seconded motion. Fiore noted that he hadn’t asked for comment first. Dennington said that Public Comment is allowed at the end of the meeting.

Joanne Pearson of Newton Street objected. She angrily referred to the Board’s approval of the contract as the fox in the henhouse. Pointing to the St. Mark’s Park that the public was upset over, she said they were involved. Pearson claimed the Board didn’t want to say that Galligan did a bad job because it reflects on their job.

Pearson raised issues about the water main repairs on Newton Street with an area dug up last August and more to come. She was concerned that based on lack of local road money, the trench would just be patched back up without the road being repaved. Malinowski said that was outside of the agenda item but she would follow up on that.

Cook said she agreed that they should move to vote but first wanted to let the public know about their next steps. On July 7th the Board will have its annual meeting to set goals. She believed a lot of the items on members’ lists relate to concerns raised. They would work hard to solve the problems.

That didn’t assuage Pearson who complained that the Board was going to reward Galligan with a raise despite the fact that most townspeople don’t like the job she’s been doing.

The vote was 4-1 with a nay from Stivers. Stivers didn’t clarify his reason for voting against the contract. The Board subsequently voted to release some related Executive Session minutes. 

Minutes posted this afternoon include the following from closed sessions about Galligan’s contract.****

On January 18th:

Mr. Stivers said he prefers to move on from Ms. Galligan and not renew her contract. . . No other member agreed with Mr. Stivers point

On May 31st:

Mr. Dennington noted Ms. Galligan must execute the decisions made by the Select Board, so should not be wholly blamed when situations go awry. Mr. Purple added that board members should more often publicly support their employees. Mr. Stivers echoed he still does not support the renewal of this contract. He emphasized she should focus on building more consensus with the public. All board members agreed that the critique of Ms. Galligan’s performance is to assist her in meeting FY23 goals, not devalue her.

In between, on April 26th there was some back and forth between the Board and Galligan over her pay increases.

Later, during Public Comment, Debbie DeMuria asked the Board to advise Galligan to use the Public Works Planning Board for oversight on many of the projects that are in discussions. As she’s previously raised, under the special act that created the DPW, the PWPB was specified as responsible for advising the DPW. The board hasn’t met since January of last year – purportedly based on the majority of members refusing to meet, including the Chair.

In prior meetings, Select Board members indicated they would like the PWPB to meet about some DPW related issues. Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting they said they would ask for it to meet about Hopkinton’s request to connect to MWRA through Southborough. Their proposal included replacing the Oak Hill water tower with a taller one. (Stay tuned for those details.)

Also under public comment, Planning Board Chair Meme Luttrell raised some issues that appear to have eroded public trust around the DPW. She referred to the sudden elimination of tree hearings before removing trees, the PWPB meeting only sporadically, and road relocations that didn’t go to the Planning Board. She told the Select Board that she believes that if the Superintendent pays more attention to Mass General Law and is more transparent, it will go a long way towards building public trust.

Tree Warden – Stipend and Board

The Board voted to again extend the stipended position of Tree Warden for Chris Leroy. The Board also got disconcerting news that according to Town Counsel, even with Tree Warden responsibilities delegated to an employee, the Board remains the actual Tree Warden. That means Leroy can make recommendations, but the decisions need to be made by (and hearings conducted by) the Board.

As I’ve previously posted, Leroy works of the the DPW but receives a $4,000 stipend to act as the Town’s Tree Warden. Earlier this year, Leroy resigned from the role based on concerns about restrictions on tree removals that came up through Planning Board discussions with the Select Board and DPW. Since then, Leroy agreed to resume the role temporarily through the end of June. 

According to Purple on Tuesday, he has since agreed to serve longer term and possibly continue in the job. There have been some changes since his initial decision. The Select Board and Planning Board agreed on a process for handling tree removal hearings. It included clarity that the Town doesn’t need to wait for a hearing if a tree poses imminent danger.

The Planning Board will be bringing its Tree Bylaw to the October 13th Special Town Meeting. It includes detail on the Tree Warden’s responsibilities and handling of tree removals. Some residents have called for the Tree Warden to be an arborist that doesn’t work for a tree removal company. The Select Board was concerned about process and costs.

On Tuesday, the Board was inclined to stick with the stipended position for the Warden. There are administrative duties that can be handled without an arborist, especially regarding trees that are clearly dead. Calling in an arborist would be reserved for when the tree removals require expert opinion. The use of an arborist report was used for several trees in a joint hearing of the Select Board and Planning on May 31st.

Concerned about the extra hearings required, Dennington asked to pursue changing the special act that makes the Select Board the Tree Warden. Purple noted that would be a lot of work and require petitioning the legislature. Dennington said he’d bring it up at their July 7th meeting.

In a dialogue with Luttrell, the Board agreed they should hold a joint hearing to take care of a long list of trees that an arborist previously reported as dead or recommended to be removed. They hope to resolve those before Special Town Meeting.

IT Specialist hired

On an upbeat note the Town was able to finally fill a position that Town Meeting approved staffing two years ago. It required multiple job searches. One candidate had been approved earlier this year but rescinded. According to Purple there were people who used the opportunity to improve their situation in their current jobs. 

Ultimately, the person hired was without the qualifications the Town was initially looking for. Rather than an experienced IT Specialist, they hired someone they believe capable of being trained in-house. The new hire,  Hassan Hammed was selected based on a strong recommendation from Technology Manager. Jason Montijo previously worked with him.

Montijo was happy that the decision would allow him to “breathe a little.” They have already identified a list of tasks to be immediately taken off his plate. He told the Board he was confident that Hammed is capable of doing them.

Cook said that she didn’t want others to think hiring the specialist meant they were done. She still believed another higher level hire is needed to work with Montijo. She envisions a 3-person department in the near future.

*Because Chair Kathy Cook was participating over zoom, Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski served as Chair for Tuesday’s meeting at the Town House.

**In a recent post, I noted an issue raised by the former Personnel Chair this spring about Purple’s statements in summer 2020 that he didn’t always perform formal evaluations in writing for all of his employees. He indicated it varied by employee. At Tuesday’s meeting, Malinowski assured that the reviews had been conducted each year – at least since she’s been on the Board. She was elected in 2020.

***The Board voted to release minutes from Executive Sessions for January 18, 2022; February 15, 2022; March 24, 2022; April 5, 2022; April 12, 2022; April 26, 2022; May 31, 2022. Malinowski indicated that some of the minutes relate to Galligan’s contract, but that any redactions are for other items. (The agenda had also included June 2nd minutes to be approved and released. Dennington asked to hold those, apparently to discuss edits.) To check if they have been posted, click here.

****Updated (6/16/22 6/16/22 3:12 pm): Most of the minutes were posted this afternoon. I inserted highlights related to Galligan’s contract. (Though, there appears to be an error related to April 12 minutes that will hopefully be resolved.)

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2 years ago

This BOS has made its disdain and rejection of overwhelming public opinion and the unanimous Town Meeting vote against you clear. You just don’t get it. You must stop illegal spending, obvious breaches of Massachusetts State Law, as detailed above and via these arduous efforts by residents. How disrespectful and insulting to these residents and Board (?!) members who take time out of their busy lives to document this EVIDENCE. To these residents and other Board members, the town owes you a debt of gratitude. Thank you for your time and efforts on behalf of all who don’t want their tax dollars misspent.

FYI, the BOS Annual Planning Meeting on July 7th must be public and the public should be invited to sit in. A public comment section would be appreciated. If a quorum of BOS meets on public TOWN matters, it would be a violation of STATE OPEN MEETING LAW if you do not allow the public to attend. Looking forward to your NOT violating state law for a change. PS—thanks to the ONE BOS member who voted NOT to approve the DPW contract. At least that one individual understands this situation stinks to high heaven.

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