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In Heated Meeting, Kramer and Bennett Spar over Chief’s Performance

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Key Takeaways

  • Board chair Kramer repeatedly asked for answers, and was unsatisfied with the chief’s response
  • Board members Mannan and Nasrullah frequently answered for the chief 
  • Chief Bennett accused Kramer of waging a “campaign of pressure” and creating a “hostile work environment”
  • Kramer says board is complicit in “wage theft” from sergeants

Last night the Select Board continued the performance evaluation of Chief of Police Joseph Bennett. The review was necessary after the first contentious meeting on February 28, in which Board Chair Muriel Kramer surprised her colleagues on the dais by issuing a withering criticism of the Chief and calling for an independent investigation. At the time, board member Shahidul Mannan felt the chief should be afforded time to respond to Kramer’s litany of complaints, and it was agreed that the performance review would be continued to a later date.

The review was on the March 26 agenda, but the chief was a last-minute scratch, apparently on a temporary leave of absence for medical reasons.

Last night’s review began with board member Irfan Nasrullah reciting a summary of the chief’s midyear goals, which included recruitment, hiring and promotion of the command staff. Nasrullah then turned the floor to Bennett, who discussed some of his accomplishments in those areas, but also stressed that “officer recruitment is extremely difficult, and we’re not alone in this”. Additionally, the chief pointed to the promotion of Sergeant Bill Burchard as the department’s new Field Training Officer and complimented Sgt. Burchard for his competent handling of the FTO program.

>> WATCH: Highlights from the Bennett’s midyear performance review

Mr. Mannan wished to discuss the number of full time officers HPD has on staff. The town has budgeted for 29 officers in total. “In June the number was 19,” said Mannan, inviting Bennett to boast that the department would soon reach a staff of 27 officers. “All candidates will be online within the calendar year,” said the chief. Earlier in the meeting the Select Board appointed three new officers, each of whom will assume their positions upon graduation from the police academy. 

The chief also discussed the department’s success in community outreach, specifically with respect to social media. Board member Amy Ritterbusch concurred, commenting that “People really appreciate hearing about the road closures.”

Kramer then invited Board members Mary Jo Lafreniere and Ritterbusch to ask the chief questions but both demurred.

Turning to herself, Kramer sought to understand the department’s lack of hiring of a command staff. “The Lieutenant position has been open since October 2021,” said Kramer. “In December 2022 you told us it was your priority to fill that, and I wonder if you can explain the two year gap.”

“We are now about to talk about sensitive matters,” replied Bennett. He said that on August 24, 2022 he had learned about Deputy Jay Porter’s alleged involvement in a crime. Bennett then seemed to struggle to remember what Porter was charged with, prompting both Ritterbusch and Kramer to interject “child rape”. Bennett acknowledged the tragedy of the alleged crime and continued on, saying he’d also learned that “one of his sergeants” had been involved “in some way” with the matter. 

Ritterbusch, apparently seeking to explain the chief’s predicament, stated that the Lieutenant’s position was in a “limbo situation”, but Kramer refuted. “The Lieutenant’s spot was never in limbo, actually. It’s been open since Jay Porter was promoted in October 2021.”

Kramer again asked Bennett to explain why the position had not been filled, and Bennett replied that “as a department head I have to make thousands of decisions. There are things I can’t tell…there are things I can’t tell you right now. I had to make those decisions based on staffing level.”

Kramer then offered the chief an alternate narrative. “Candidly, that doesn’t explain the gap,” she said. “You’ve got sergeants that have been holding the rope for two and a half years, so much so that they sent you a letter asking for relief. This isn’t just me, this isn’t just your sergeants, it’s the community wondering why there’s this gap. Who has been doing the job since October 2021?”

“For the most part, it was largely me,” answered Bennett.

Kramer disagreed. “This community needs to be very appreciative of the way that the sergeants have been doing many jobs. Not just their jobs, but the lieutenant’s job and the deputy chief’s job,” she said. 

At this point the conversation took an abrupt turn.

“What explains the gap in the deputy chief position?” asked Kramer.

Bennett closed his eyes and took a deep breath, pausing for a moment, as if contemplating what he was about to say next. 

“Ms. Kramer, you know. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about this. In May, you began a maximum campaign of pressure against me, against the department, in support of your friend. And, it’s becoming extremely uncomfortable.”

Bennett was alluding to Kramer’s friendship with Tim Brennan, the former Hopkinton police sergeant who was fired on February 8. Kramer has publicly acknowledged that her family is close with the Brennan’s.

At this moment, Mannan interjected, explaining that the “past 18 months have not been normal”. Mannan then sought to confine the chief’s review to just the past 12 months of his performance.

Not content to be sidelined, Kramer persisted. “Without speciously suggesting that I have been on a personal campaign…stick to the question, please.”

“Well, now we also get to talk about my feelings,” said Bennett. “I expect to be treated professionally. I expect to not be retaliated against because I took action against your friend.”

“It’s a very hostile work environment,” Bennett added. This marks the first time Bennett has made a veiled threat to his superiors in a public setting.

Unfazed, Kramer retorted “How about this. It’s your job to to build your team. Tell us why you didn’t post for a deputy chief job or a lieutenant job. It has nothing to do with anything else. Tell us why you didn’t do your job.”

Lafreniere seemed to have reached her limit. Pounding her fist on the bench, she turned to Kramer,  shouting that “I want to call for a point of order. I think we’re getting a little personal here and this is the stuff for Executive Session.” 

“This is performance, ma’am,” snapped back Kramer. By law, performance reviews for public officials must be conducted in a public meeting.

Kramer went on to state that Bennett had not made meaningful progress on his hiring goals until just four weeks ago, when she brought it up in a “very uncomfortable presentation”. “That’s not the way this police department should be running. It’s not being led right now,” she said, pleading to her colleagues.

“That’s your opinion,” interjected Lafreniere, “and we don’t have that same opinion.”

Kramer cited “long gaps in the leadership.” “Somebody is doing the job, and I would suggest to you that is the sergeants, and we are not paying them extra to do this extra work, and that means [motioning to the group] we are all complicit in wage theft.”

For his part, Bennett sat quietly as the Select Board members traded blows, seeming to prefer that his surrogates, Mannan and Nasrullah, speak for him. 

“This is getting way out of hand. You’ve made your point and I think we’re done,” said Nasrullah to Kramer. Mannan joined in, attacking Kramer for conducting a “personal investigation” without the board’s knowledge. Kramer replied that she had merely been reading and responding to documents put forth by the District Attorney.

“Time out, time out,” said Town Manager Norman Khumalo, attempting to cool the discussion.

Kramer moved on to another topic. With respect to chief’s social media goal, she asked what processes he had put in place to ensure that “mistakes like the one that were made are not made again”. 

“What mistake?” asked Mannan with sincerity.

“The disclosure of sensitive information,” replied Kramer.

Rather than allowing the chief to answer, Mannan then launched in to an extended lecture about the incident, claiming that many other people were involved in February’s disclosure of Porter’s alleged victim’s identity, and that they shouldn’t discuss the details due to the ongoing investigation. Kramer sought to re-frame the question as one of process, but was bullied by her colleagues into moving on. 

“I’m gonna say one other inconvenient piece of information out loud. It has been reported by active duty officers that you are not regularly available during working hours, and we need to know if that is true or not.”

Leaving no opportunity for the chief to answer, an exasperated Nasrullah said “You know, you’re always talking about how you want to stick to a process. We have a process and it’s outlined. You’re going way outside the four corners.”

“Alright,” said Kramer, crossing her arms. “I’m done.”

“Next agenda item?,” asked Nasrullah.

The abrupt conclusion left some residents wondering if the chief was actually reviewed.

Update 4/3/2024 6:30 PM: The Hopkinton Select Board will meet again on Friday, April 5 at 5:00 PM to continue the chief’s mid-year review. The meeting will be live streamed on HCAM.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. A few weeks back, a commentor at an SB meeting noted that the 2023 Boston Marathon informational safety bulletin released by the chief contained very outdated contact information for the Massachusetts State Police. Considering the level of security for this event, this seemed like a big deal that demanded at the very least, a response from the Select Board. Yet no further information has been provided. While I certainly understand that paper copies of a bulletin are not likely the first line of communication these days, it would seem that the commenter and the town should have received an answer on how this happened from the chief and/or Select Board, and it certainly could have been discussed as part of this performance review.

    Finally, I, like Ms Kramer, am still waiting to hear an explanation as to why the lieutenant position was not filled as far back as October 2021. “It was a mistake on my part” is an allowable answer, what happened last night was not, in my opinion.

    • Following the SB meeting on 3/19/24, Mr. Nasrullah asked me if I could get him the list that was referenced.

      Although they SHOULD be able to ask for this through the Chief, they have not been given the other items they’ve asked for!

      Mr. Nasrullah specifically said it was very important to look at this as they continue their review. I told him I would email it to the board.

      On 3/20/24, I emailed the list (which is a photo of the page directly from the marathon handbook) and also made a very clear document stating the status of each contact. I sent it to the Board and to Norman.

      There was no mention of this last night and I haven’t heard anything myself. I didn’t expect to hear back (other than maybe a “thank you”) but it should be obvious that I do not work at HPD to access this list from my own handbook.

      Based on what we are hearing, the officers have now reached out in three specific ways, seeking to bring attention to their reality of the inner workings of the department:
      1. The letter of “no confidence” that was signed by all Sargent’s and given to the Police Chief, and then reported to the Board Chair as well.
      2. The example from the Marathon handbook that was from within the department (which was given with an explanation that it was an example of laziness, lack of attention to detail, and not up to standards expected from a Police Chief)
      3. Last night, we heard Muriel say that an active duty officer let her know that the Chief has been unavailable during working hours (they prob can’t confirm with GPS…).

      Mr. Nasrullah took issue with Muriel bringing this to the Chief’s attention and claimed it was outside the scope of the Chief’s performance review. How that isn’t linked to “performance” is lost on me.

      So, the Board is now aware of THREE separate times the officers have shown them examples to back up their need for change, but I guess since that’s not part of the process for a performance review, the majority of the Board members aren’t going to acknowledge it.

  2. Wow, that whole situation is really disturbing. I applaud Ms. Kramer for asking tough and relevant questions that are needed to address shortcomings and to ensure public safety. Why is the rest of the Board so squeamish? Those are not easy discussions but they are important to have. Performance evaluations are needed and she approached this in a professional way. The rest of the Board’s response was an embarrassment.

  3. Muriel Kramer is THE ONLY Select board member who is doing the job. You other patsy’s are letting the chief (small c on purpose) get away with not doing his job. If Bennett were in a private sector job, he would never have gotten away with his insubordination, failure to complete his goals and fill open positions. Thank you Muriel for doing what your colleagues won’t do….the job you were elected to!

  4. THANK YOU, MURIEL!

    Muriel’s leadership and integrity were truly exemplary during last night’s Select Board meeting. It’s crucial to have individuals like her who are dedicated to upholding fairness and accountability in public service.

    Standing up for what’s right, especially in the face of opposition from her fellow select board members, demonstrated courage and commitment to the community’s well-being. Muriel’s efforts to hold others accountable and advocate for the town’s best interests deserve recognition and appreciation.

    Thank you, Muriel, for your dedication and leadership!

  5. What an absolute joke and total embarrassment, both the board and the chief. That was a mid-year review? No accountability for NOT doing your job even with a letter of complaint from the sergeants? If anyone ever came as ill-prepared, not willing to answer questions during a mid-year review as I just witnessed, they would have been shown the door, no question. What’s even more infuriating and shameful, watching an incompetent select board not demand answers and accept “BS” answers and responses. No wonder the residents of this town are fed-up and pushing to recall the board.

  6. Win, lose or draw, it appears that comments made by the select board during Tuesdays meeting has all but secured a hefty raise for all the sergeants if they decide to file a grievance based upon their workload. Get ready to open your wallets!

  7. I’m sorry. Whose review was this … Why on earth were select board members answering any questions? The chief answered nothing and four boards members let him get away now in 2 meetings without actually having spoken to any accomplishments and performance results. As a member of this community and an executive who has had and done hundreds of performance reviews I am at a loss for words. The select board (minus Muriel) is not doing their job as expected. When an employee is under review – they speak, they answer, they state their actions and results. Not a single one of the comments should have been made by any other board member to answer a question or ‘attack’ a peer member for asking their own questions. Shame on you all.
    I too would really love to know why vacant jobs weren’t posted for 6 months, 12 months. Who cares how long, people!! When jobs are vacant nothing good comes of it. It should have been chief’s priority to fill. Why wasn’t it? He never answered with an appropriate time line. He should have been uncomfortable. In those 10 minutes, on his very own, the chief showed lack of leadership, professionalism, and decency in handling his own review. Not at all what I would expect of someone of that position and supposed caliber.
    I am appalled at the chief going after Ms. Kramer personally. I don’t know her and have no personal agenda in any of this. Simply watching all of these meetings as a concerned citizen and completely maddened. That alone should not have been tolerated by the board and then for a few members to pile on. Outrageous and disgraceful.

    Well handled to Ms. Kramer.

    The fact that the police chief of Hopkinton has never had a full, legitimate review is unbelievable. At minimum his review should have been at minimum him listing accomplishments. What are they – citizens should know. I have no clue what the chief has done for this town, here was an opportunity for him to tell us all but he said almost nothing and the little he did say was not impressive. Ms. Kramer’s questions should have been softballs if he was doing his job well. That is the real point.
    Signed, discouraged and saddened community member feeling let down by the board who should be professionally handling these items on my behalf and failed

  8. Reminder, 7 months ago Muriel didn’t want to promote Deboer or Santoro to Sergeant, I believe Mary Jo was the only member of the select board to vote against a delay: https://hopnews.com/police-union-to-select-board-that-was-disgraceful/

    And Muriel is just wrong to then blame the chief solely for recruitment issues, see article from March 25, 2024: https://hopnews.com/why-our-cops-left/

    You can check out this article from the same time where our police were asking for more support and the struggle with recruitment: https://www.metrowestdailynews.com/story/news/local/2023/09/26/hopkinton-ma-select-board-wants-more-input-police-department-promotions/70799819007/

    She’s his boss, she should know the answers to the questions she asking. Seems personal to me.

    Perhaps Hopkinton should pay all of our police more.

    • Meredith:

      Kramer stated exactly why she was doing this:

      “It’s performance.”

      Kramer knows the answers, she’s asking the Chief because _WE_ don’t know the answers. She wants him to tell everyone why things are happening.

      Show, don’t tell.

  9. If anyone questions the reason for the anger and drive to oust the current Select Board, this would be another shining illustration of the need to clean house. Thank you Muriel for doing your job. It is not always easy or comfortable, but necessary just the same.

  10. It seems to me that the SB knows more about the Brennan thing that they can’t share now. Hmm wonder what that could be? I’m thinking it could lead to a more lengthy investigation into his dealings w the victim? Don’t turn a blind eye to what they are telling us. I’m hearing them loud and clear. There’s a lot of talk around town ….

    • “It seems to me…” seems like unfounded inuendo and gossip. According to the charge document attached to the January 19 SB meeting agenda, there were 5 charges under consideration:
      1. Knew of a child rape on Aug 21 and failed to report to law enforcement, which was indicated as a department rule violation. Brennan knew the incident was being reported to the DA on 8/22, and that the SP was reporting it to the chief, which happened on 8/24. So it was reported, if technically not by him
      2. Knew of a sexual assault of a minor and failed to report, another department rule violation. This has been acknowledged; however, victim advocates have noted that coming forward at that time may well have prevented justice from being obtained for Mr. Porter, as the victim indicated that she’d deny the claim.
      3. Knew in August 2022 that the victim was pursuing a criminal investigation and was concerned for her safety; another department rule violation. The DA’s office and SP were presumably informed by the victim.
      4. Knew of an inappropriate relationship in 2015. This was noted as violating a rule put in place in 2018.
      5. Used the victim as a babysitter while school resource officer (prior to 2008). Again, a supposed violation of a rule in effect in 2018.
      And that’s it. The document does not allude to other issues. He was charged, and terminated, based on those 5 items, two of which are questionable at best (1 and 3), and two (4 and 5) which were a violation of laws that did not exist at the time they were reportedly violated. And one was a judgement call that may have violated department rules in the interest of justice. Hopefully the DA digs into ALL this.

  11. I was regretting spending so long idling on the Zoom and wondering if this discussion would actually be worth it. I, sadly, didn’t have enough popcorn.

    Performance reviews can be hard. They can be really uncomfortable. This is especially true when you’re trying to coach someone who doesn’t believe they’re having challenges on the job. The extraordinary events over the past few years have led to numerous challenges in the Hopkinton Police Department and require hard conversations.

    It seems that the majority of the Select Board is unwilling to have those hard conversations. I’d argue that is part of their job. Chief Bennet refuses to acknowledge that there are opportunities for growth. That is not an acceptable response, especially with everything that is happening.

    I understand there is an active investigation that the Select Board, Chief Bennet, and others can’t fully discuss. I also understand that makes all parties involved VERY defensive when discussing certain topics. That doesn’t excuse some of the bad behavior and irresponsible responses from Chief Bennet.

    Kramer and Bennet don’t like each other – fine. I’ve worked with numerous people I don’t like. I’ve even worked with individuals who I strongly disagree with on their tactics. However, a leader asking a subordinate why they took certain actions is _NOT_ a hostile work environment. Kramer asked direct questions about why actions weren’t taken and got a ‘I don’t have to say anything to you’ response. That isn’t a ‘team’ response – that’s a dictator response. Bennet works for the Town of Hopkinton – not the other way around.

    After all of this, I’m wondering if we need to totally clean house for the Police Department. Perhaps we shouldn’t have Bennet on the Deputy Chief search committee and find multiple someones to restore faith in the department.

    • From the 4/2/2024 Select Board meeting:

      Norman Khumalo: “The Deputy Chief position is posted, and closes April 12. We have also contracted administrative support (outside consultant) for the position. The board needs to think about a screening committee.”

      Muriel Kramer: “Shahidul has expressed interest, I have interest, Chief Hicks, one member from the personnel committee (potentially), and somebody else.”

      Norman Khumalo: “Who could that be? I respectfully request the HR Director.”

      Muriel Kramer: “That sounds right.”

      It appears Chief Bennett will not be included in the hiring process.

      • It seems that discussion was specifically about the screening of applicants. There was a discussion about Bennett doing an interview before/during the assessment(?), but I don’t know which position that was in a direct reference towards.

        I don’t have the recording and it doesn’t appear to be fully posted anywhere, so I could be incorrect.

  12. When you elect someone to the Selectboard who counts among her friends Shawn McClinton and Monica Cannon Grant you get some who hates all police, not just the Chief. Do better Hopkinton.

  13. Last week I sat through the herbicide presentation and noted that Mary Jo and AMY spent just over three minutes making thoughtful comments and expressing legitimate concerns regarding spot treatment of Lake Maspenock. It was evident that they took time to review the materials in order to formulate meaningful contributions to the conversation. YES! Finally!
    This is what we expect of our Selectboard, and a good example of them doing their job. Vetting a controversial topic. It gave me hope that they have actually been listening to the recent public outcry to serve us better and are now doing their homework in order to make truly informed comments and decisions.

    Fast forward one week to last night.

    I attended the review, well more so the attempted review of the Chief.
    Before it turned contentious, each board member was per usual asked if they had any questions for the chief after his yet again vague review of himself. I had hoped to see a repeat of last week’s meaningful discussion play out, especially after they had 4 weeks to prepare since Muriel’s uncomfortable presentation of the laundry list of areas the chief had made little to no progress on his goals.

    Surely the board members had looked into each of those items! Surely they demanded all the documentation he had failed to produce thus far, especially the letter of No Confidence the Sergeants had given him. Surely they had requested and actually viewed the Marathon Emergency Contact list a concerned citizen pointed out he copied and pasted to “produce” the 2023 list.

    I sat there waiting with such hope that these questions would be asked, followed up on, commented on. Come on Mary Jo! Come on Amy! Ask the tough questions! I appreciated your concerns for herbicides but this is our chief of police… in charge of our entire force, the safety of our entire community!

    But if you watched, or as you read in the overview, you would understand my extreme disappointment when Mary Jo and Amy declined to answer or respond to the Chief’s review. NO Questions!! NO comments!!! Absolutely NO follow up on Muriel’s laundry list! If they felt her list is incorrect, DO YOUR HW and prove her wrong! They didn’t even attempt to do that!

    Instead they chose to speak FOR the Chief with yet again vague reponses and a multitude of excuses with no real facts or answers. NONE!

    Muriel presented facts. She asked legitimate questions regarding his performance goals. And it was an utter embarrassment to watch the remaining 4 “town leaders” melt down and join in with the Chief’s attempt to turn the table on Muriel.

    THEY made it personal.

    Muriel NEVER made it personal, the Chief inserted that narrative into the conversation as a defense mechanism because he couldn’t answer the questions… and the remaining 4 jumped, no lept and bound onto that bandwagon!
    Muriel stuck to the facts and performance based questions and maintained her composure.
    Sadly, that cannot be said for the remainder of the board.

    Leadership – our town needs leadership! Last night was not leadership.

    Enough is enough. The community needs to pay attention and take action!

    We cannot sit by and watch the town, the Chief, run the Select Board!!!

    We need to wrap up this RECALL because we deserve leaders who will ask the tough questions, demand the answers, and run this town the way it should be run… in the best interest of the people!

  14. I just watched the video and am so appalled at the way Muriel’s fellow Board members spoke over her and tried to shut her down. Asking tough questions of an employee is never easy and she did not duck from doing so. Not should she.

    Not only is the way they interrupted and spoke over her inappropriate during a performance review, it’s incredibly disrespectful to her as a colleague and the chair, and to the public forum process altogether. I’ve seen previous Board have disagreements but they did so in a respectful way so that all voices could be heard.

    How is this helpful to the situation or to the community for them to be bickering up there? These are serious questions. They act offended that she would even bring them up.

  15. 1. So after receiving reports that the chief was not available during working hours, the chair asked him if that was true.

    2. Mr. Nasrullah stated it was out of bounds to ask. ???

    3. The chief did not answer the question.

    4. Now less than two weeks before the Marathon, residents don’t know if the chief is showing up for work.

    What am I missing?

  16. Everyone should be able to read between the lines by now: a senior sergeant (like Tim Brennan) should have been promoted when the Lieutenant position became open due to Porter’s promotion to Deputy Chief in October 2021 (almost a year before Porter was ever put on leave and long before he was ever arraigned). This is the same Chief who then put Brennan on leave immediately after Brennan helped author a letter of no confidence in the chief signed by all the Sergeants. The same Chief who got Brennan fired when Brennan took down his close friend who was accused of rape. The same Chief who then released the victim’s identity. The same Chief who repeatedly failed in many areas of his job, who failed to produce documents when asked, etc, etc, etc. Bennett’s performance review should have been addressing the many ways in which he has failed (because that is their JOB) but they didn’t even review him at all. No questions for him??? And “people really appreciate hearing about the road closures?” Really? You know what people really appreciate, is hearing about corruption and who is doing something about it and who is not. (Amy is not. MJ is not. Nasrullah is not. Mannan is not.) Why is this board (except for the chair) covering up for the Chief? Why was he not put on leave while under investigation, as is the precedent they themselves set? Why is he allowed to appoint new officers when all of this is going on and both his character and performance are in question? This is unsustainable. This man needs to be fired, and the board needs to be replaced. Finally, since the chief couldn’t recall what his friend was charged with: CHILD RAPE. Don’t forget it.

  17. Chief Bennett very sarcastically accused Ms Kramer of sticking up for “her personal friend” Sgt Brennan but, didn’t chief Bennett retaliate against Sgt Brennan for taking part in bringing down chief Bennett’s personal friend, Jay Porter. What Sgt Brennan did was nothing compared to what Jay Porter did. I’ve known Tim Brennan for a great number of years and I too am a personal friend of his and I can reassure you everything and anything Sgt Brennan did involving this case, came right from his heart, because that’s the kind of guy Timmy is. He didn’t do anything intentional by not himself reporting the rape, what he did was put himself, his job and his family in jeopardy by putting it into the victims hands to report, considering she specifically told him she would deny any allegations concerning her. My heart breaks for the victim but I personally feel she needs to accept some responsibility (not for the rape) but for the way this all went down. Instead of threatening the one person that tried to help her when “she went to him” for help, she should’ve told the truth right from the get-go. And by threatening, I mean to deny any allegations if he told. again, just my personal opinion!!

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