TOWNSEND — Selectmen addressed new and old concerns of residents and employees during a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday.
During a 40-minute discussion about the hiring of an interim police chief and a search firm, Chairwoman Carolyn Smart and Selectman Gordy Clark addressed comments from residents.
Town Counsel Brian Riley was in attendance. Smart said questions might be directed to him.
Marcy Mula asked the board for clarification on when former Police Chief Erving Marshall decided to retire and when a candidate for interim chief was chosen.
Marshall contacted Clark about retiring, Clark said. They had a conversation about what the chief needed for a settlement before the entire board met.
The selectmen held the two executive sessions in August to work on the retirement settlement, Smart said.
Marshall contacted fellow law-enforcement personnel, letting them know of his intention to retire before a final agreement was reached, Clark said.
When Boxboro Police Chief Warren Ryder found out, he contacted Clark, who is a reserve officer in Boxboro and said he might be interested in the Townsend position, Clark said.
Ryder contacted the state Ethics Commssion with his own and Clark’s job descriptions, Clark said. Ethics said there was no issue with Ryder applying for the job, but that Clark could not discipline him.
Ryder went to his own board to get permission to apply before the opening was posted, Clark said.
“There’s been no collusion with Ryder,” Clark said.
Ultimately, Ryder did not get permission and former Fitchburg Police Chief Robert DeMoura, who was a longtime Lowell police captain, was hired as interim chief.
Resident Kelly Kelly asked why Clark said in a meeting that Mark Giancotti, the lieutenant in the Townsend department, would not be considered for the interim position.
Clark said he invited Giancotti to his house and they spoke for two hours. Both agreed that this was not the time for Giancotti to apply for the position, Clark said.
Kelly asked why more discussion on hiring a search firm was not held. “How do other towns do it?” she said, referring to the process of hiring a new public-safety official.
A lot of energy was put into selecting a firm and two firms were interviewed, Smart said. Badge Quest had done more promotions, rather than new hires.
When asked about his wife working for the Police Department and the possibility of personal or financial gains from his involvement, Clark said he has consulted town counsel many times. He was told his actions were appropriate.
The newest selectman, Cindy King, was not on the board when all of this happened.
“I heard more tonight than I heard through the entire process,” she said. “The community just wants to hear more information.”
“We always try and communicate with the community,” Smart said.
Anyone with questions could have attended earlier meetings or contacted her or Clark by phone, she said.
Selectmen also addressed payroll problems. Payments for disability and life insurance were not made in a timely fashion, according to several employees.
Town Clerk Kathy Spofford said she received a letter last week saying the disability premiums were not paid. She emailed the treasurer about the problem, but did not get a reply.
When her check was $300 less than she expected, the director of the Council on Aging, Karin Canfield Moore, said the treasurer told her she paid back premiums all out of one paycheck.
“If this was a private company, this would have been fraud,” she said.
The selectmen voted to have Town Administrator Andy Sheehan make sure all of the insurance premiums are up-to-date. If they are not paid by Monday, he should notify the board so that it can hold an emergency meeting.
“We have a responsibility to solve this,” Clark said.
In the long-term, the board needs to get an audit of the payroll system, Smart said.
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