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Northfield police chief’s requests questioned

NORTHFIELD — The police chief’s requests for post-surgery administrative hours and a temporary full-time officer to fill shifts have met with resistance from residents.

With chief Leonard Crossman Jr. undergoing reconstructive surgery on his foot and ankle and unable to return to full-duty afterward, residents want to know how he plans to spend the final two months of his contract.

“My goal is to set the next chief up for success,” said Crossman. “I want to get all of the department’s ducks in a row before my replacement takes over. I don’t want there to be any lingering tasks that need to be done to bring the department into compliance with laws, procedures and training.”

“We’ve come very far,” he continued. “I think we’re about 90 percent of the way there.”

Crossman, 33, has been the town’s police chief since January of 2010. He signed a three-year contract, and does not plan to renew it when it expires in January, as he will likely remain unfit for the physical aspects of policework for some time.

That’s a problem, because his job description calls for a “working chief,” one who patrols and responds to calls in addition to handling the department’s administrative work.

This, he said, made him decide not to seek renewal of his contract.

Crossman said the timing of the surgery is unfortunate, but his doctors advised him not to put it off.

Last fall, Crossman underwent a similar surgery, and had to fight for the Selectboard to approve him to work for 20 hours each week. At that time, former board member Bonnie L’Etoile pushed to have the chief take his entire six-week recovery period off.

He had to justify his administrative hours then, and he’s being asked to do so again.

“I don’t know why anything involving the Police Department falls under the level of scrutiny that it does,” said Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Wright.

This time, he’s requested clearance to work up to 30 hours per week. Wright said the chief requested an extra 10 hours because, while recovering from his last surgery, he spent an average of 28 hours working each week.

Some, including one Selectboard member, want each hour accounted for. Selectboard member Dan Gray asked for a description of how the chief spent his 28 hours on administrative work.

Crossman said he will spend it tying up loose ends for his replacement, whoever that may be.

“I want my replacement to come in and be the type of chief the town wants,” he said, one who’s out patrolling and responding to calls, rather than being chained to a desk, playing catch-up, as he was when he stepped into the job.

At that time, the town had been without a chief for a year and a half, after former chief Gary Sibilia stepped down.

“That year and a half that we were short-staffed made it very difficult for the department,” said Crossman. “When you’re short-staffed, there’s a lot of work that doesn’t get done.”

The department normally employs three full-time officers, including the chief, but was down to two full-timers after Sibilia left.

More than 25 residents attended Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting, and most voiced their agreement with Gray. Several residents have come out to support Crossman at past Selectboard meetings, and shared Wright’s feelings that other members of the previous board were micromanaging the Police Department.

They didn’t come out Tuesday. Crossman was also absent from the meeting.

Gray and fellow Selectboard member Jack Spanbauer both said they’d like to hear from the chief before deciding on his post-surgery hours, though Spanbauer said he was in favor of giving Crossman the hours he’d asked for.

Members of the audience had their own ideas.

Some suggested the town cut Crossman loose if he couldn’t perform the full scope of his job after the surgery.

Temporary help

To continue the current level of police coverage in town, Crossman requested that part-time officer William Kimball, a 21-year-old officer with the department since January, be temporarily made a full-time officer. The chief said that would allow the department’s two full-time officers, along with Kimball and part-timers, to provide coverage during Crossman’s administrative shifts, should someone need to respond to a call.

That, too, was met with scrutiny.

“This seems like a backdoor attempt to expand the police force,” said resident Paul Gorzocoski III.

Crossman said that’s not the case at all.

“It’s a quick fix,” said the chief. “He can fill shifts in my absence, and it allows the town to conduct a proper search for a new police chief, without having to rush.”

He said Kimball’s part-time hours won’t be back-filled, so the department will effectively be adding 25 hours, not a full 40. He said that, to make it work, Kimball has agreed to a lower hourly rate than part-timers. Kimball would be eligible for partial benefits as a temporary full-timer, said the chief, but not the full benefits available to permanent full-time town employees.

Also, Crossman said, his own hours would initially be cut, and eventually eliminated. He’s not, he said, trying to create a new, administrative position for himself, but would be willing to help the town get ready for a new chief any way he could.

Residents wanted Crossman to explain the necessity of allowing Kimball to work up to 40 hours per week.

Crossman said he is still waiting for the Police Academy to approve a waiver to allow the officer to temporarily work full-time. That approval still pending, Crossman said he didn’t expect the issue to be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Crossman said he’s crunched the numbers, and that there is room in the department’s budget to work 30 hours a week until his contract expires, as well as bring Kimball up to full-time on a temporary basis.

Should unexpected costs come up, said Crossman, the town could bring Kimball back to a part-time shift.

The chief said Kimball has been in public safety for four years, as a call firefighter and an emergency medical technician in several county towns. Crossman said Kimball is competent and willing to do the job, and has become very familiar with the town.

“He’s a very capable officer,” said Crossman.

Crossman is no stranger to the level of scrutiny he’s facing.

In January, two years into his contract, it was discovered that a one-year review had never been done.

The board, then consisting of Wright and Bonnie L’Etoile, with Gray as chairman, began a performance review of the chief.

During that review, Gray and L’Etoile asked the chief to account for his hours, after receiving complaints from residents who felt they didn’t see Crossman out on patrol often enough.

However, with no previous review conducted to evaluate the chief’s performance and give suggestions for improvement or other direction, the board decided it had nothing to use for a metric for the two-year review.

That board had gotten as far as giving Crossman a list of expectations and questions, as well as time to address them. They included, among other things, that he spend more time on patrol.

The current board was soon to resume his review when Crossman told them he wouldn’t seek renewal.

At the request of citizens, the board decided to table discussions of the chief’s request for administrative hours and Kimball’s temporary appointment to a full-time position until Crossman could address them. He is scheduled for surgery Tuesday, and said he will be out for the remainder of the week, but able to return to work before the Nov. 13 Selectboard meeting.

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

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