HomeOpinionSelect Board roundup: Where’s the Chief?

Select Board roundup: Where’s the Chief?

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On the agenda last night: The always popular public forum, a continuing performance review of Chief of Police Joseph Bennett, and weed control in Lake Maspenock.

We Speak for the Lake

At public forum, Maspenock residents showed up in force. Most wanted to voice their support for the town to apply herbicide to the lake to bring the weeds under control. They claim the weed problem makes the lake unusable, fouling propellers and endangering swimmers. A few residents voiced their objection, expressing their belief that the science isn’t sound and that there may be better alternatives, such as mechanical removal of the weeds. Later, DPW Director Kerry Reed made a formal presentation recommending the use of herbicides, a plan the Conservation Commission has now unanimously endorsed.

Several board members had questions, but it was just informational. As Joe Baldiga, chair of the Citizen Advisory Group for the lake reminded the board during the presentation, “this body does not have a formal vote on this. That’s what ConComm was set up for.”

The Chief Skips Out

Elsewhere in weed control, the board attempted to continue chief Joseph Bennett’s mid-year performance review. This was a continuation of the discussion from February 28, in which Chair Muriel Kramer blasted the chief for his failure to meet agreed-upon performance expectations. Her fellow board members were shocked at the time, prompting member Shahidul Mannan to throw the chief a lifeline and allow him time to prepare a response.

>> RELATED: Gayle and Scott Ober on Chief Joe Bennett’s Self Review: A Lesson in Arrogance

The chief’s response was scheduled to be heard on March 12, but it was later scratched from the agenda and rescheduled for last night’s meeting. When it came up, Kramer made an announcement to the room:

“I heard just before the meeting that the chief is not able to be here, so I am asking the board how you want to proceed.”

Ifran Nasrullah urged Kramer to reschedule the review for next week. “We can’t keep kicking it down the road,” he said.

“We will need to speak to this issue next week,” said Kramer, agreeing. “It is our hope that the chief will be here when we do.”

Moments later, Mannan circled back, saying he had heard that the chief was “out on FMLA”. FMLA is an acronym for the Family Medical Leave Act. “We can’t speak to that,” replied Kramer.

This prompted some residents to write in to HopNews asking “If the chief is out on leave, who’s in charge of the department three weeks before the biggest annual event in town?”. I’ve posed the question to Town Manager Norman Khumalo and Ms. Kramer and will provide an update when available.

A Bull Market Increases Our Deposits

The board endured a lengthy presentation from an outside auditor on the health of the town’s finances. Everything is A-OK he said, a ponderous conclusion given our reporting on the state of accounts payable in Hopkinton. No word on how deep the audit went.

Also, new town treasurer CJ Paquette and CFO Kyla LaPierre gave the board an update on the town’s quarterly deposits, the first report of its kind. Last quarter, Hopkinton earned more than $1.7 million in interest on $91 million in deposits, primarily on the strength of the public market. Paquette is fresh-faced youngster that seems eager to excel in his new role. To her credit, LaPierre showered her team with compliments on their performance over the past three weeks as she settles in, showing early signs of competent leadership.

Speaking of investments, readers, are you aware that the town owns stock in Altria, the maker of Marlboro, Virginia Slims, and Merit cigarettes, Copenhagen chewing tobacco, and Juul e-cigarettes (also known as vapes)? Ironic, considering the Board of Health works hard to help people stop smoking. Along with Altria and other blue chip companies, Hopkinton holds almost $700,000 worth of stock in individual companies.

The Scrivener’s Revenge

The Select Board had published the Annual Town Meeting warrant as part of their agenda, and one astute HopNews reader caught something no one else had noticed. It has to do with the strong chief / weak chief statute.

>> RELATED: Select Board aims to fix typo that made Police Chief “weak”

Read the article above for the entire history, but in short, the Town Charter, adopted in 2017 made the chief of police “weak” by Massachusetts law. It referenced M.G.L. c.41, §97 (the weak chief statute), not M.G.L. c.41, §97a (the strong chief statute). The police chief’s contract, signed last year, also says he will be treated as a “strong chief”.

Wrote Town Manager Khumalo on this topic: “This proposed article aims to correct a scrivener’s error from the last Charter review process,. The Police Chief has always been a “strong chief” in Hopkinton. But in the last Charter review process, a scrivener’s error resulted in the Charter citing to section 97 (the “weak chief” statute) and not 97A (the “strong chief” statute) – i.e., the scrivener’s error was dropping the “A” at the end of the statutory reference.

Except when the warrant article was printed in the March 6 Select Board agenda packet and also in the March 26 packet, the language read as follows:

AN ACT AMENDING THE CHARTER OF THE TOWN OF HOPKINTON TO CORRECT A STATUTORY REFERENCE

SECTION 1. The charter of the town of Hopkinton, which is on file in the office of the archivist of the Commonwealth as provided in section 12 of chapter 43B of the General Laws, is hereby amended by striking “M.G.L. c.41 §97” in section 3-1(d) and inserting in place thereof “M.G.L.c.41 §97”.

In other words, the same “scrivener’s error” from before is set to be replicated again.

This was brought to chair Kramer’s attention yesterday afternoon, and she mentioned it to the town manager at the close of the meeting. The board has up to their final meeting before Annual Town Meeting to change the language of any articles, so no doubt the typo will be corrected in time.

Are you Paying Attention?

Finally, I’ll leave you with this gem.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, this begs so many questions:
    – The chief reports to the Selectboard, correct? Who would he have had to notify and when that he was on FMLA and not attending his own performance review? I find it hard to believe that the Board was not notified of this before the meeting. And if he did not provide any notice, what does that say about the chief’s interest/respect for the performance evaluation process? What would you do if your employee was a no-show with no notice?
    – Can the Board conduct the performance review in the chief’s absence?
    – Can the chief be offered the opportunity to participate remotely?
    – Could his legal counsel stand in for him if desired during the performance evaluation? Not ideal but who knows.
    – Are there public records stating the length of leave?
    – Who verifies that this is for a legitimate reason and isn’t just a convenience to stay in place until a certain date like when pension kicks in? (I’m not saying that’s the case but just asking the question.)

    And re: the town’s finances, how can they say things are AOK when the town just pulled the rug out from under the Health Department for funding much-needed nursing / community outreach support?

  2. I disagree with the way the Police Chief handelled some issues, specifically the Sgt Brennan fiasco. However, those who do not actually know him, he is a good person ( i worked with Chief bennett for 20+ years) as a Hopkinton Police dispatcher for 25 years. The Chief has not recieved fair critisizm from some readers on this page, some even calling him a criminal, which is appauling!! I send my sincere well wishes to the Chief and what he may be dealing with. My wish is that we all just stand down a bit an allow the Chief to privately navigate whatever it is he is dealing with.

    • Lou you are probably right. Joe Bennett is a good guy ,a good patrolman,a good sergeant , a good Lieutenant but failed as chief. It may be sad the he’s being judged on 31/2 years of his career but that’s the way it works. His destruction of Sergeant Tim Brennan is clear retaliation. For that alone I’m a hater.

      • Fair enough Steve. I too disagree with the way Sgt Brennan was treated. However, I’ve read a lot of comments on here that are simply not true, not fair in regards to Chief Bennett. Many from people who do not know him personally.

        • Joe Bennett is a criminal. He outed a sexual abuse victim and that is a CRIME. For that act alone, he should be fired. Tim Brennan lost his job for a policy violation. With all due respect, Lou, you need to get your facts straight.

  3. Another wonderful blunder from are underperforming Select Board. Instead of suspending with pay for policy violations the board left this gem open to him. A bill written help families with serious health issues and parents of new children. This hack has 12 weeks over the next 52 to use as needed. I’m almost positive the town can’t fill his position until he has used the 12 weeks or retires. He could conceivably take 1 day off a week for the next 60 weeks and hold up the new chief appointment. Way to go SB

  4. I am shocked that Mannan would throw the Chief another life line with his comment about Family and Medical Leave. Let it be known that the Town does not have Paid Family and Medical Leave. The Town has the option to opt-in but has selected not to. Causing the departure of the previous Town Treasurer (20 years experience) who ran out of sick time caring for a loved one. The current Town Treasurer has no degree and no previous management experience. HopNews please confirm the Town has not opted in to PFML with HR. I asked the previous HR director for my personal knowledge and was told an emphatic no despite it being in the employee handbook. For my safety I would like to remain anonymous. Please investigate this comment from Mannan about the Chief and what the Chief has done to ensure security during previous marathons versus other officers. Thank you

    • “We will need to speak to this issue next week,” said Kramer, agreeing. “It is our hope that the chief will be here when we do.”

      When you add the fact that the Select Board can’t comment if the Chief is on FMLA, this presents an interesting picture. My theory:

      Bennett’s going to ‘retire’ due to a medical reason. He’ll do it within weeks based on 9B in his contract:

      “In the case of a voluntary resignation due to a personal emergency for himself or an immediate family member, the Chief may provide the Town with two weeks’ notice, if possible.”

      FMLA gives him the opportunity to declare a personal emergency. I’m guessing he’s also going to use some sketchy things to retire as ‘disabled’ to increase the pension.

      Better to ‘retire’ and collect that pension than have any opportunity to be dismissed…

  5. This Chief is a joke but the real joke is on us as the SB (and by extension the residents) allow him to do as he pleases including destroying the career of an actual good cop to settle a personal vendetta. This has moved from embarrassing to humiliating and now beyond shameful. But like the little rats from the Pied Piper, the SB just follows the Chief at every turn.
    Disgraceful.

  6. None of this passes the smell test. The Chief is looking for an easy way out. If he looks for disability retirement, as suggested in the comments above, what a weak and pathetic way to retire. I hope he does not do that.

  7. According to the Town’s Employee handbook, there IS FMLA for town employees. SHAME ON YOU SELECT BOARD. This is disgusting and a dereliction of duty. Please please can ANYONE tell me why Norman is STILL BEING PAID BY US – THE TAXPAYERS?????

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