Northfield chief to finish contract

NORTHFIELD — After much debate, and disagreements from residents and one of its members, the Selectboard has decided to allow the police chief to work for the final two months of his contract.

Chief Leonard Crossman Jr.’s contract expires Jan. 11, 2013, and he will spend his final eight weeks on crutches, working half time as he heals from reconstructive ankle surgery.

The matter was brought up at the board’s last meeting, Oct. 30. More than 20 residents attended the meeting, and many spoke out against the idea of allowing the chief to finish his contract at his desk, doing the administrative work of the department.

Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Wright started Tuesday’s meeting by notifying a similar-sized crowd that residents would not be recognized to speak to agenda items.

“It seems authoritarian that you would shut citizens’ concerns down,” said resident Paul Gorzekowski during the public comment period.

“We heard all of the negative comments and concerns at our last meeting,” Wright countered. “It’s time to make a decision.”

Selectboard member Jack Spanbauer agreed.

He and Wright were pushing for the chief to be allowed to work 30-hour weeks. Member Dan Gray, however, wanted to send him packing as soon as possible.

If the chief can’t meet his job description, which includes patrol as well as administrative work, Gray said it would be unfair to other town employees to let the chief perform light-duty work.

“Why not just take our personnel policy and throw it in the trash?” asked Gray.

“All I’m doing is offering to help the town,” said Crossman. “This is not about me making money. I’m financially prepared to walk away today.”

Gray also cited liability concerns.

“If you were to walk through the door, trip on your crutch, and break your leg, you could sue the town,” he told the chief. “I’d be OK with saying ‘go, heal, and come back.’”

Spanbauer disagreed.

“(The chief’s) expertise will be valuable for preparing the department for an interim chief, and drafting a budget for the coming year,” he said. “Thank you, Len, for being a stand-up guy and offering your services.”

Spanbauer offered a compromise, where the chief would be allowed to work 20 hours per week. He argued that this followed a precedent set last year, when Crossman underwent a similar surgery on his other ankle, and was ultimately approved for 20-hour weeks of light duty. At the time, Gray was chair, with Wright and former member Bonnie L’Etoile making up the rest of the board, and the topic was one of much debate then, too.

Ultimately, the board decided Tuesday to allow the chief to work 20 hours a week. Gray gave the single “nay” vote.

Crossman had proposed another short-term solution to maintain the town’s level of police coverage. Part-time officer William Kimball would be temporarily allowed to work up to 35 hours per week. This, said Crossman, would provide an able-bodied officer to respond to calls while the chief is desk-bound, and maintain about 18 hours of daily police coverage afterward.

That request, too, was met with resistance, at Tuesday’s meeting and the one before. Some residents said they felt the chief was trying to expand the department. However, with the chief’s hours reduced by 20, and Kimball going from 19 to 35 hours, there is a net reduction of four man-hours. Also, should the town hire an acting chief from outside, Kimball could be cut back to part-time hours at any point.

In the end, the board approved Kimball to work 35 hours per week for a six month period, the maximum allowed for temporary or seasonal town employees.

Gray, again, was the board’s the lone vote against it.

Wright recognized that Crossman and Kimball’s hours are short-term solutions, and said the board will discuss a long-term solution and the search for a new chief at a future meeting.

It could be a long process. When former chief Gary Sibilia retired, the town was without a police chief for a year and a half, until Crossman was hired in 2010.

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

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