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Northfield seeks help in replacing police chief

NORTHFIELD — With its police chief working half-time after surgery, and leaving for good in mid January, the town is looking for the best way to find his replacement.

Since Chief Leonard Crossman Jr.’s ankle surgery has left him unable to patrol or respond to calls, something spelled out in his job description, he has decided not to renew his contract.

Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Wright wants to turn to outside consultants to help find a new chief.

“A police chief search is a very complex, time-consuming project, with a lot of steps, and a lot of considerations,” said Wright.

After former Chief Gary Sibilia retired in 2008, a Police Chief Search Committee was formed from volunteers including town residents and officials. The town wound up without a chief for about 18 months before Crossman was hired.

“I agree that we need to take an objective approach,” said Selectboard member Jack Spanbauer.

Board member Dan Gray said the consultants would know much more than the board about what’s involved in the search for a police chief, and said he’d like to hear what they’re offering.

The town has received proposals from three consulting firms. The Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, offered its services for $12,500 and $1,000 in expenses; Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, N.H., gave an estimate of $7,500; and Badge Quest of West Yarmouth, said it would help for $3,600.

Wright said the services Badge Quest proposed would likely need to be expanded.

Though the scope of services varies a bit among firms, the basics are the same. They would interview town officials to determine what the town needs in a chief, review and assess Police Department policies and procedures, advertise the position’s availability, and screen applicants, said Wright. She said the chosen firm would then present three to five candidates to the Selectboard, and assist in the decision.

Wright said she feels it best to seek an outside consultant because of the controversy that has surrounded the Police Department.

“I feel the Police Department has been one of the most contentious, divisive issues in the six year’s I’ve been on the board,” said Wright.

Although the Police Department has spurred a lot of controversy in town, and fueled hot tempers and long discussions at many Selectboard meetings, such was not the case Tuesday night.

After a brief, calm discussion, the board decided to ask the firms to send representatives to a Selectboard meeting, and set up a conference call with any firms that can’t make it.

Gray said he would listen to what the consultants had to say, but that he wouldn’t necessarily support hiring one.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said.

Wright said the funds would need to be approved at a special town meeting.

The Police Department has been a sore spot for many in town, since before Crossman was hired almost three years ago.

Most recently, residents ignored Wright’s decision not to give them the floor to discuss whether Crossman should be allowed to work at all while he recovers from reconstructive ankle surgery. At that Nov. 13 meeting, the board also decided to temporarily increase a part-time officer’s hours to supplement patrol coverage. More than one resident walked right up to the board’s table, sat down, and had his say, despite the chairwoman’s decision not to recognize them.

She said at the time that the issue had been debated enough and all sides heard at the previous meeting, and it was time to make a decision. Board member Dan Gray, however, invited residents to speak, and the discussion went on for more than 45 minutes.

The board voted to keep Crossman on for 20 hours per week until his contract ends in January, and increasing officer William Kimball’s hours from 19 to 35 for a maximum of six months. Gray voted against both moves.

The town’s attitude toward its police was enough to make one officer throw in the towel in March, 2011, after just three months on the force.

“Personal attacks on the police department,” and “small-town politics” were among the reasons given in former officer Kurt Gilmore’s resignation letter. In the letter he said town employees and officials, including former Selectboard member Bonnie L’Etoile, approached him to ask why he was leaving, and whether it had anything to do with others in the police department. He said that it did not.

At the time, the town was rife with rumors of town officials and employees with agendas and personal grudges against the department.

David Rainville can be reached at
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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