HomeNewsPublic SafetyInside Look: Deputy Police and Deputy Fire Chief Selection Process

Inside Look: Deputy Police and Deputy Fire Chief Selection Process

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On Tuesday night the Select Board received an update from Jessica Lewerenz, Director of Human Resources, on the Deputy Police Chief hiring process. 

The town has contracted with Public Safety Consultants of Boxford to facilitate the recruitment process. Twelve applicants submitted letters of interest and were screened. The list was cut to six, and the review committee – which consisted of former Select Board Chair Muriel Kramer, Police Chief Joseph Bennett, Interim Town Manager Elaine Lazarus, Police Chief James Hicks of Natick, Lewerenz, and Personnel Committee Chair Patricia Duarte – interviewed six candidates. The committee then selected four candidates to move forward.

HopNews has learned through sources at Town Hall that the four candidates are Hopkinton Police Lieutenant Scott van Raalten, Sergeant Aaron O’Neil, Sergeant Matthew McNeil, and Sergeant Matthew Waugh of Holliston Police.

Van Raalten, O’Neil and McNeil were each considered for the Lieutenant position that the Select Board appointed on April 17, with van Raalten the chosen candidate.

According to Lewerenz, the four candidates for Deputy Chief tested at the Assessment Center on May 16, and the next step is to identify the top three candidates to be presented to the Select Board for a final interview.

This presents an interesting appointment scenario for the Select Board. As the highest ranking officer, van Raalten would seem to be the obvious choice, but he has been in the Lieutenant’s job for just five weeks. Another factor is that van Raalten was not a consensus choice; the board was split 3-2, with Muriel Kramer and Mary Jo Lafreniere preferring Sgt. O’Neil for the role. It’s a distinct possibility that either O’Neil or McNeil could be appointed to the Deputy Chief role, skipping the Lieutenant role altogether.

The choice of Deputy Police Chief comes at a critical time. According to department insiders, Chief Joseph Bennett will achieve his maximum retirement benefit this June, leading to speculation that he may not be in Hopkinton much longer. Should he vacate his position, the Deputy Chief would be the natural option to serve as Interim Police Chief until the Select Board can find a suitable replacement.

Herr and Clark Question Deputy Fire Chief Hiring Process

The Select Board also received an update on the Deputy Fire Chief search process.  

A review committee has been established, which includes Select Board member Mary Jo Lafreniere, Ms. Lazarus, Fire Chief Gary Daugherty, Jr., Lewerenz, and member at-large Bob Levinson. The group is reviewing the contract with an outside vendor to understand if the project scope should be increased and how the review committee would supplement the hiring process.

“We’ve never gone outside to fill this position before,” said Daugherty. 

Select Board Chair Brian Herr sought clarification. “So we’re open to the idea of going outside to fill the position, correct? And we could have internal applicants apply as well?”

“Yes, because that’s the direction the [previous] board wanted to head,” replied the Chief. 

Moments later Herr asked if the cost of the vendor was budgeted for, and Lazarus replied that it was paid by the department, prompting Daugherty to indicate that it was “not budgeted for, we just eat it out of our operations budget.”

Joe Clark questions Chief Daugherty, Jr.

This sparked several questions from Select Board member Joe Clark. He asked for an estimate of the cost of the outside vendor, and Daugherty replied that it was “roughly $10,000, before any advertising [for the position]”. 

“Are there better things that money could be used for?,” asked Clark.

“Of course, sir,” replied Daugherty. “This will be coming out of our equipment line item…[money] that could be used for training or equipment… [we will] suffer in that area.”

Turning to his colleagues, Clark stated “We have our strong chief, and my understanding is everyone’s very happy with him. Is this the best use of our time and resources and money if we have internal candidates?”

Indeed, it is perplexing that the Select Board is involved with this initiative at all. 

The “strong fire chief” statute in Massachusetts, codified in General Law Chapter 48, Section 42, grants significant authority and autonomy to the fire chief in towns such as Hopkinton. Under this statute, a strong fire chief has full and absolute authority over the administration of the fire department. This includes the ability to appoint and remove officers and firefighters, establish rules and regulations for the department’s operation, and manage the department’s resources and equipment.

Specifically, GL 48, Sec. 42 states that the chief “shall appoint a deputy chief and such officers and firemen as he may think necessary“.

While the Select Board is the appointing authority for police officers, it has no legal authority over the personnel decisions of the fire chief.

Further, appointing an outsider to the fire department would be a highly unorthodox move in Hopkinton. Firefighting and public safety in this town requires specific knowledge that an external candidate is unlikely to have, given Hopkinton’s unique position as a host community for the largest peak shaving liquefied natural gas plant east of the Mississippi river. The Select Board, when considering the appointment of Daugherty, Jr. to Fire Chief last January, noted this fact during the confirmation hearing. 

Given the Select Board’s renewed interest in controlling costs (led by Herr), it would not be surprising to see the board discharge themselves of this process, preferring instead to let Chief Daugherty promote a current Hopkinton firefighter, as he is entitled to do under the law.

Sunnyside Gardens

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5 COMMENTS

  1. So this statement is troubling!
    ……. Moments later Herr asked if the cost of the vendor was budgeted for, and Lazarus replied that it was paid by the department, prompting Daugherty to indicate that it was “not budgeted for, we just eat it out of our operations budget…..
    It seems to me that an expense like this should be budgeted for if in fact needed; I question the need to bring in an outside consultant to participate in contract review and DC hiring process. The Chief should appoint a deputy chief per MGL.
    Clear message – we can eat it out of our operations budget ….

  2. I have the utmost confidence in Chief Daugherty’s ability to identify from among his own ranks who would be the best choice for Deputy Chief. I can’t say the same for other public safety openings, however. Let Chief Daugherty make the hire and let our firefighters benefit from the $10K that can be best used for operations and equipment.

  3. Under the last Town Manager, paying consultants was the norm not the exception! HR should be doing its job of recruiting instead of paying someone else to do it.

  4. And, thank you to HopNews for highlighting this very significant point: “Specifically, GL 48, Sec. 42 the “Strong Fire Chief” statute and to the Hop Residents for showing up. Impressive, to say the least.

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