Buckland Selectboard’s lack of action concerning chief

Published: 10/24/2021 3:36:01 PM

Regarding accusations that retired Buckland Police Chief James Hicks sexually harassed a town citizen, Buckland Select Board member Zachary Turner accurately states the well-known principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” The concept of due process for people accused of crimes is an important bedrock of our system of laws and justice in the United States.

Unfortunately, Mr. Turner seems confused about his role in this process: the Selectboard is not a court of law.

The Selectboard’s role in this instance is that of an employer. When an employee is accused of a crime or other misconduct, employers, including select boards, have a responsibility to evaluate whether the accusation carries enough weight to take administrative action — that is, to follow and enforce employment policies. This is not part of our criminal justice system, so the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is not applicable.

Moreover, we must hold people in positions of authority and power, especially police officers, to the highest standards of trust, of character, and of conduct. In the face of the criminal charges filed against Mr. Hicks, it is disturbing that the Selectboard did not place him on administrative leave pending an investigation.

And it’s astounding that the retired chief remains an “auxiliary officer” who continues to have contact with the public in an official capacity.

Of course, as Mr. Turner suggests, Mr. Hicks may be innocent of the charges against him. The law requires that we give him the benefit of the doubt, until proven otherwise, regarding the criminal charges. At the same time, common sense and human decency require that we prevent people accused of sexual harassment — especially people in authority and positions of power — from exercising their power and authority until they have proven they are fit to serve.

I urge the Buckland SelectBoard to suspend Mr. Hicks immediately and to examine its own actions — or lack of action — when faced with potential breaches of public trust by its employees.

Raymond Lanza-Weil

Shelburne Falls


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