Police Chief Update: Process approved for hiring internal candidate

Based on the applications received, the Select Board will continuing to focus on internal candidates for the next Police Chief.

The Town’s next step is to hire a consultant to help them vet candidates. That choice may be influenced by “insight” from one or more community members with law enforcement experience.

Last night, the Board met in executive session to discuss the applications received. (The deadline was Monday.) In the open session that followed, references were made to “candidates” to be considered – but not how many.

At a prior meeting, the Board discussed the possibility that if they didn’t have confidence in internal applicants, they could widen the search externally. That wasn’t mentioned last night. Instead a process was outlined that won’t be done.

Presumably, that means that members were comfortable that they can find a good fit among the current applicants.

It’s worth noting that the past two searches for Southborough Police Chief sparked public controversy over treatment of specific internal candidates. (You can scroll down for that background.)

As I posted earlier this month, the Select Board is seeking a process to name a new chief as soon as possible. The decision to focus on internal candidates was part of that strategy.

On Tuesday, the Board voted to hire a professional consultant to help vet the candidates and put forward those that the Board should interview. Those candidates will go through a background check and an assessment – but not through an “assessment center”. Board members will be able to observe the assessments.

At the end of their discussion, Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski summed up the process for the public. She ended with final steps that the Board would vote to select one of those candidates and negotiate a contract.

Before voting, the Board discussed a recommended process and options proposed by the Asst. Town Manager. A memo from Vanessa Hale explained that she and the Town Administrator agreed that “using professionals in the municipal and public safety field would be helpful, and more cost effective than a traditional assessment center”

The options listed were:

  1. Interview with municipal experts. (This was described as a low cost alternative to consultants.)
  2. Hire a consultant from the public safety/management field to conduct a first round interview with the finalist(s). (Estimate of $4-6K depending on the extent of the exercises and size of panel)
  3. Professional Development assessment. (An additional $400 for a behavioral and achiever profile)

The Board quickly and unanimously agreed on the 2nd option as preferrable to the 1st. Member Sam Stivers dismissed the 3rd option as useless in his view. No one made a pitch to support the option.

Hale told the board that estimated cost for a consultant was low enough to bypass issuing an RFB. The rough estimates were based on contacting three municipal consultants they worked with in the past and describing the Board’s general concept. The Board later determined the expense it could be covered by the police department’s budget. Funds are available based on current job vacancies.

The selected consultant option was detailed as covering:

an oral interview, situational scenario(s) and a written exercise(s) so they are able to assess the following characteristics: ability to work effectively in a collaborative environment, administration and management, supervisory experience, leadership development, knowledge of current trends and protocol [newly adopted regulations, DEI, community relations, etc], labor relations, breadth of experience relating to superior communication and customer service principles.

Both Stivers and member Lisa Braccio made process recommendations based on their learnings from the 2018-19 Fire Chief search.*

Stivers advocated that it is worth paying more to have assessments handled by a consultant with professional expertise and deep experience with the process. He referred to an issue during the assessments that had to be fixed by a more senior and professional consultant stepping in to run it. He also described the impact of observing some of the scenario questions and role playing. He noted that some candidates didn’t do well, but Chief Achilles did.

Braccio said she had the same “eye opening” experiences. She would like to find a consultant to conduct a smaller version of the assessment center.

Initially, Chair Kathy Cook asked if anyone wanted to work with Hale and Town Administrator Mark Purple on selecting the consultant. Braccio advised against having Board members involved, since they are responsible for the final decision. 

Stivers urged to have a community member with law enforcement background provide some input on selecting the consultant. He said they may have valuable knowledge including of the consultants’ reputation. The Board agreed to have Purple and Hale reach out to community members they know with relevant experience for their interest in providing extra insight.

Hale was asked to begin the process of advertising for consultants right away.

Past Police Chief Search Controversies

Back in 2013, there was a public campaign to support internal candidate Lt. James to replace Chief Jane Moran when she retired. That led to an outcry when the search committee didn’t include him on the list of candidates to send to the assessment center. When the search committee reversed that decision, it prompted their consultant to quit. Ultimately, the Select Board chose an external candidate with a higher rank and more years of senior level service – Chief Paulhus. (Lt. James retired in 2019.)

The prior search that selected Chief Jane Moran was also a controversial one. Moran was named Acting Chief following the death of Chief William Webber in 2008. When the search for Webber’s replacement was conducted in 2009, the Select Board urged Moran to apply and said she would be automatically be considered a finalist for the job. That decision was publicly criticized as providing an unfair advantage or tainting public perception.

After Moran’s appointment, news broke that during the period of the chief search, the Select Board had been opened an internal investigation into eight Town employees for unprofessional conduct based on comments purportedly made about then-interim Chief. (The controversy around that investigation, also known by some in town as “Pizzagate”, issuing a subpoena related to a comment posted on this blog. That was issued to Susan Fitzgerald who had created MySouthborough.com was running it at the time.)

*Braccio was Chair of the Select Board at the time of the Fire Chief search. Stivers was a member of the screening committee.

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