TOWNSEND — If all goes well in contract negotiations, Robert Eaton will be the town’s next police chief.
The Board of Selectmen met in public session for only 18 minutes Tuesday night before entering an executive session to negotiate with Eaton, who is presently chief in Stockbridge.
The agenda for the meeting had advertised the session with Eaton as an interview, but selectmen didn’t ask him any questions. They opted instead to give him the opportunity to introduce himself to the town.
Chairwoman Carolyn Smart said she feels Eaton had already been sufficiently interviewed by the Police Chief Screening Committee last Tuesday and previous vetting by hiring consultant BadgeQuest.
“He’s a great guy,” Smart said. “I think the committee got it right.”
In his short introduction, Eaton said he was humbled to be the unanimous choice of the Screening Committee and the informal citizens’ committee that interviewed him and two other finalists.
Eaton, 48, grew up in Smithfield, R.I.,where he served on the police force for 25 years, including 11 years in command roles. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Anna Maria College and has served as chief in Stockbridge for the past two years. In 2012 graduated from the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy, which he said only 1 percent of law enforcement across the country are invited to attend.
Eaton touted his extensive training in all facets of policing, including criminalistics, use of force and weapons.
He said he hadn’t been looking for another job until the position in Townsend came up. Eaton said he believes he can be more effective in a larger town than Stockbridge, which only has 1,800 full-time residents and no schools within its borders. During the warmer months, the population grows to between 8,000 and 24,000 due to tourists, he said.
Eaton said he misses being involved in the schools, and sees the local school system as an opportunity for community involvement. He said he is a uniformed chief and active in the community, and he intends to do the same here.
Eaton didn’t seem concerned about recent tensions in town, some of which have led to an effort to recall Smart and Vice Chairman Gordon Clark.
“I know that there’s been some political issues and there’s been a lot of changes in positions, unfilled positions in the town, and I’m good with that, because I’m going to provide a direction for the community as well as for the Police Department,” Eaton said.
He said he will bring an open-door policy, intends to engage in community-policing programs and provide education and training to officers “and the tools that they need to do their job effectively and efficiently.”
“I will treat everybody fairly and objectively, not only within the Police Department but also within the community,” Eaton said.
He said he prides himself in that and his integrity, and will hold officers to the same standard.
Eaton said he has a wife of 25 years and a 19-year-old son.
Clark, whose wife works for the Police Department, recused himself before Eaton went before the board.
In a letter read by interim Town Administrator James Kreidler, Clark said he was advised by Kreidler and town counsel that he should not participate in or vote on the issue due to a potential ethics conflict.
“Thank you to the screening committee and to the citizens committee for all of your quality work, and in an effort to not cast any shadow on it, on the board or on a potential chief of police, I will now step away from the table,” Clark said in the letter.
Smart and Selectman Cindy King met for about 20 minutes in executive session to discuss strategy before welcoming Eaton into the room to begin negotiations. When Eaton left the executive session about 7:15 p.m., he said he was “excited” and declined to comment further until the contract details are ironed out.
Smart said afterward that she’s confident the first negotiations went well and she expects they will continue for at least one more executive session, likely to be held at the board’s meeting next Tuesday.
Former Police Chief Erving Marshall Jr., who served in that role for about 15 years before retiring in September, had a base salary of $108,089 in his final year. He also received $1,500 in annual longevity payments, a $1,250 uniform allowance and additional payment under the Quinn Bill, the amount of which was not immediately available Tuesday night.
Based on the terms set forth in his Stockbridge contract, Eaton is earning an $87,945 salary this year, which would increase by 2 1/2 percent in the next fiscal year if he were to stay there. That contract also provides a $750 fitness stipend, $1,000 clothing and $1,000 cleaning allowances and an annual reimbursement of $1,000 for health-insurance costs from a provider other than the town.
Stockbridge selectmen recently renewed Eaton’s contract another three years. That agreement would give Eaton a base salary of $97,500 beginning July 1, 2017, an amount that would increase each year of the contract by 2 1/2 percent of the previous year’s salary.
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