Board of Selectmen
May 21, 2007
6:30 PM: Open Meeting; St. Patrick’s Parish Center
Quorum present: Michael Kirchner (MK), Curt Wilton (CW), Tina Skorput Cooper (TSC). Also present: Administrative Assistant (AA). Berkshire Record reporter present.
No previous meeting minutes to act on; Annual Town Elections last week.
No vendor warrant to act on; Town Accountant away on vacation.
6:40 PM: Following the annual election, Board reorganizes. MK makes motion to nominate Curt Wilton as Chairman. TSC seconds the nomination. Vote taken, 3-0 in favor. MK nominates TSC as Clerk to the Board. CW seconds the nomination. Vote taken, 3-0 in favor. CW nominates MK as Secretary to the Board. TSC seconds the nomination. Vote taken, 3-0 in favor.
Board discusses joint meeting with FinCom and Fire Chief regarding purchase of a new fire vehicle. The meeting is planned for May 31 at 7:00 at the Fire Station. MK suggests that the Town Treasurer and the Town’s Financial Advisor be asked to attend the meeting also.
Board reviews and accepts a letter of resignation from Part-time Police Officer Charles Simonelli.
CW has spoken with Bob Korte regarding Memorial Day activities. Bob says that a parade is being organized. CW has spoken with Bob about using the front lawn of the Village School as in past years even though it is partly dug up due to the on-going construction. CW plans to rope off the dangerous areas and clean up the rest as best as possible. Both agree that there will be plenty of space to conduct the ceremonies. CW acknowledges all the work done by resident Josh Morse and friends on the plantings and work around the memorial at Village School and at the Cannon. CW makes a motion to keep the ceremonies at the Village School this year. MK seconds the motion. Vote taken, 3-0 in favor.
CW notes that the Village School project manager is waiting for a proposal from Verizon on the cost/benefit of new utility poles versus underground for the new 3-phase power to be brought into the building.
7:10 PM: Moderator Gene Dellea opens the discussion on the Committee to review Board of Selectmen and Chief of Police issues (Committee). Gene notes that all members have been duly sworn in and have been briefed on issues including: contract, procedures and job performance. Gene introduces Lori Robbins (LR) as the Committee Chair.
As an overview, LR asks what the Selectmen’s concerns are. What is the status of the Chief’s contract? What is the reason for non-reappointment of the Chief? LR asks if there are performance evaluation criteria in place for the Chief and other employees. AA replies that there are no formal processes in place. LR asks if there is a job description for the Chief. AA will provide to LR. LR provides a standardized evaluation form that the Town of Lenox uses for its Chief of Police.
There is a general discussion of the Chief’s disputed employment contract. Chief states that he requested Town Counsel’s opinion to the Selectmen on why his contract is unenforceable. MK notes that Town Counsel advised the Board that Town Counsel’s opinion on the contract should not be shared with the Chief.
LR states that job performance shouldn’t be a political issue or a contractual issue.
LR discusses the timing issue between the expiration dates of appointment versus employment contract. They are not in synch. The Chief’s appointment expired last June and was not renewed. The Chief’s employment contract runs two more years.
LR asks if the Chief’s non-reappointment had more to do with contract issues or performance issues.
CW speaks to why he didn’t vote to reappoint the Chief. CW cites news reports that said that the Chief wanted to move on. CW asked the Chief at the time newspaper articles (6/05) appeared reporting his appointment to the Egremont PD whether he would go to Egremont if hired and the Chief said he would.
Chief Cooper states that he said at that time that he would like to stay as the West Stockbridge Chief if things in Egremont didn’t work out.
CW states that the Board tried to be courteous to Karl during this time and he only expected the same in return.
TSC notes that she did vote with the majority of the Board not to reappoint the Chief last June. Later in the year – March – Tina changed her opinion on the Chief’s appointment. TSC witnessed a noticeable improvement in the Chief’s performance. TSC came to this decision on her own and was not influenced directly by the Chief.
MK states that he has several issues with the Chief’s contract and has other issues with the Chief as well including, negligence in Department training and insubordination.
Lawrence Tonini asks if the Chief was brought in to discuss these concerns.
MK states that he has not seen any response from the Chief to the Board’s concerns.
MK confirms that Chief Cooper is a ‘strong Chief’ under MGL. The Town adopted that section of MGL sometime in the 1980’s.
LR asks if Policies and Procedures had been supplied by the Chief for adoption. MK says they weren’t. The Chief only presented the standard package as published by the Mass Chief’s Assoc., some of which is inapplicable to W. Stockbridge.
Committee member Mitch Greenwald asks if the Board would furnish Town Counsel’s opinion on why the Chief’s contract is unenforceable. MK says that, if Town Counsel said it would be all right to do so then the Board would supply that opinion.
LR discusses the timing of a late June 2007 Special Town Meeting.
LR asks the Chief what his commitment to the Town is now. Chief responds that he wants to stay on as Chief until he retires.
LR asks the Chief why he was looking to go to Egremont. Chief responds that he didn’t think he would be reappointed. He didn’t tell the Board at the time because the negotiations with Egremont were not completed. Chief sates that the newspaper stories at the time were premature.
CW states that he never had a problem with the Chief going to Egremont. CW just wanted the Chief to come back to the Board when the move didn’t work out and say that he was O.K. to stay on. Earlier, the Chief had said that he was burnt out in W. Stockbridge.
CW asks the Chief why he didn’t come back to talk to the Board after being asked to do so. Chief responds that he was advised that by doing so, it could be perceived as an admission that he was willing to re-negotiate his contract.
CW states that he respects the statement of the petition signed by 350 residents but he is troubled by why the Chief never fought for his job in the year since his non-reappointment.
LR asks the Chief if he was ‘burnt out’. Chief responds that he did say that but it might have been a poor choice of words. The Department was experiencing staffing problems at the time. Chief says some of his problems might have been self-induced.
LR asks the Chief if there he has any physical or emotional impediments to being Chief in the future. Chief responds, no.
LR asks the Board what the proper need would be to have the Chief attend Board meetings. CW responds that the Chief used to come to meeting when CW was first elected. Then he showed up less and less.
Mitch G. asks if the Chief was asked in for reasons other than to discuss his contract. MK responds, yes. He was asked on 7/10 to come in more often.
Chief states that it was not out of disrespect not to show up at meetings. Chief says that it more of a coincidence that he didn’t show up to meetings after CW became Selectman.
LR asks the Chief if he was to remain employed would he come to meetings regularly? Chief re-states that he didn’t want to come back to meetings because of his contractual concerns.
LR asks if the Chief’s appointment ends June 30th. AA responds that the Chief’s appointment ended last June 30 but with the required 12 month notice not to reappoint ends this June 30.
LR asks if an appointment can be for less than 3 years. Board is not sure. That would have to be looked in to.
LR suggests that a shorter term appointment might be a possibility.
Mitch G. offers that the Chief’s unwillingness to re-negotiate his contract is not the Chief’s problem if he hasn’t been told why the contract is unenforceable.
Committee member David Pearlson states that public safety should be the Board’s main concern. The Town may not have a Chief in 6 weeks. Timing is such that something has to be concluded here.
General discussion about how long it takes to advertise, review and appoint a new Chief.
D. Pearlson suggests that a short term appointment should be done to insure public safety. Even a 3-month appointment would give everyone more time to reach a resolution.
CW responds that it’s unfortunate to that we’re under a tight timeline, but the Town would have been in the same position way earlier had the Chief left with 2 week’s notice like he planned. The Board would have had to scramble then.
General discussion about when the next meeting will be scheduled. Lawrence Tonini asks that the meeting be in the evening to better fit everyone’s schedule.
8:10 PM: LR ends the evening’s discussions. Moderator Gene Dellea thanks the Board and everyone else for their participation.
8:15 PM: There being no additional business to discuss, MK makes a motion to adjourn. TSC seconds the motion. Vote taken, 3-0 in favor.
Meeting minutes approved by:
_____________________ _____________________ _______________________
Curt Wilton, Chair Tina Skorput Cooper Michael Kirchner