SHIRLEY -- With an interim chief heading the Police Department until a permanent, full-time chief is hired, selectmen on Monday night interviewed finalists for the position.
Three top candidates were winnowed from a larger field of applicants by the Police Chief Search Committee, which consisted of former and current police and fire chiefs, the middle-school principal and the town administrator.
The board asked the same series of questions of each candidate in turn.
Bruce D. Spiewakowski, of Dudley, has been the police chief in Warren, Mass., since 2008 and worked for the Dudley Police Department from 1987 to 2007, starting as a patrolman and rising to the rank of sergeant.
Thomas J. Goulden II, of Nashua, New Hampshire, started his law enforcement career in the Army as a military police officer and investigator from 1979 to 1985. He was chief of police in Brookline, N.H., from 1997 to 2010 and now works as a patrolman for the Pelham, N.H. Police Department. He is also a deputy sheriff for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, a position he has held since 2010.
Thomas Vincent Ralph, Esq., of Webster, is a practicing attorney and has been deputy chief in Webster since 1995. Previously, he worked as a police officer for U-Mass, Lowell and Suffolk University, where he obtained his law degree in 1996.
Asked to name three career accomplishments, Spiewakowski cited low employee turnover on his watch.
Another accomplishment was that during his tenure, the town acquired a reverse 911 communications system, which he said was a "big help" when tornadoes ripped through the neighboring town of Brimfield.
He initiated outreach that resulted in a more social media-savvy civilian population, including town seniors. "I like to be progressive," he said.
Asked how he handles special interest groups, Spiewakowski said he has an open door policy. "You have to deal with them," he said, cooperating when possible, compromising if necessary.
Any embarrassing background the selectmen should know about? None, he said.
Asked what he'd do in the first one to three months on the job and to sketch a three-year plan, Spiewakowski said he'd start by evaluating "where the department is at," by interviewing employees, asking about its strengths and shortcomings and their goals.
His most serious career mistake? None to report, he said.
Asked why he wants to change jobs, Spiewakowski said it would be a lateral move but he's maxed out where he is and wants to keep moving forward.
Citing an aging cruiser fleet and a police station building that has been condemned by the health board, he said a small but stubborn faction in Webster has stalled progress and that's not about to change any time soon.
Goulden cited top career accomplishments as never going over budget, low department turnover and a training program that gives his officers a "sense of worth" as well as challenging opportunities.
Special interests are all the same to him and he doesn't give them special treatment. "I treat everybody the same," he said.
Told the Shirley PD offers "limited upward mobility" for its officers, he said he would foster growth after taking a departmental "pulse" to see how he could assist them.
With no "embarrassing" background to report, Goulden's map for the future would be to get acclimated first, state-to-state and review department policies and procedures to ensure they are current and conform to Massachusetts laws. Long-term, he might shoot for accreditation, which limits the town's liability, he said.
He wants to move because he can retire in New Hampshire now and is seeking "new challenges," he said.
Asked about his management style, Goulden said he's a team player.
When it came to disciplining or firing anyone, Goulden said yes, he'd done that, as had Spiewakowski. Ralph, the last candidate interviewed, had to discipline but not fire anyone because that's the town administrator's job.
Goulden's experience was with two officers who were secretly dating. The male officer came to work one day showing signs of physical abuse, for which his girlfriend and fellow officer was eventually charged. The investigation was turned over to internal affairs and the Nashua Police, he said. The female officer, facing termination, resigned.
His most serious mistake was well publicized at the time, Goulden said and as he explained it, it was not a mistake at all. One month into his new job, certain town notables broke into a church and rang the bell. Where police chiefs in the past were expected to look the other way, he did not, he said. They were held accountable.
Ralph, who said he's married with five kids, cited changes in the town's emergency medical dispatch system as one of his career accomplishments. At his instigation, the system gained "Power Phone" accreditation, he said, the first in the state to be certified.
When it came to special interest groups, Ralph said he treats everyone the same. But he listens. Above all, he wants to be "equal and fair" and air issues in public, he said, versus hearing about issues "behind closed doors."
To offer officers growth options despite "limited upward mobility" in the department, he would give them tasks as well as training, Ralph said, assisting with administrative duties, such as grant-writing.
No embarrassing background, but his biggest professional mistake may have been racial profiling he waited too long to report. But while others left, he stayed, he said, proving he's "an honest person" who did the right thing.
Asked to take a look at the Shirley PD "from the outside in" to spot needed changes, Ralph said the contract situation was one of the first things that struck him. "The contract is very old," he said, dating to 2008, with numerous "memos of understanding" since. That has to be a source of dissatisfaction among police officers, he said.
As for the budget, while it's lower than it once was, there's no "fluff" that he could see. The economy is improving, he said, but in the meantime, to up the department's revenue, grants are the way to go, he said.
Two of the three candidates said they'd sat at the bargaining table during union negotiations; one had not.
All three believed police departments were an integral part of a community's economic development and none of them said he'd have a problem wearing two hats, as recently retired Police Chief J. Gregory Massak did for several years, serving as a patrol officer in addition to his administrative duties.
Chairman David Swain made it clear the selectmen want to shift that paradigm by hiring another police officer, hopefully as soon as this fall. But he wanted also to be assured that the next police chief would be fine with the arrangement until then.
All said they would work within the parameters of the job, either way, but would welcome the opportunity to stay in the loop. They would prefer to get out on the road rather than be stuck behind a desk, unaware on a personal level of the challenges, large and small, their officers face every day.
Swain told each of the candidates the board would not make its decision Monday night but would make its choice by the next meeting on Monday, July 28.