Westminster Police Chief Search on Hold After Chairman Resigns Amid Accusation of Open Meeting Violations
WESTMINSTER -- The search for a new police chief is temporarily on hold after the committee’s chairman resigned and an open meeting law violation alleging problems with the search process was filed last last week with the state’s Attorney General’s office.
“The interviews have been postponed because the chair has resigned for personal reasons,” said Town Administrator Karen Murphy, who serves on the committee.
The search committee’s former Chairman Steve Hemman was not immediately available for comment.
Six semifinalists were scheduled to interview with the search committee on Saturday in a closed session.
Board member H. Christopher Redkey filed the open meeting law violation against Hemman, “several board members,” and the town’s human resources manager. The violation allegedly happened on Oct. 23, which is when the committee previously met.
The complaint alleges Hemman “changed scores of committee members” on forms they use to rate the chief candidates and he didn’t provide all members with scoring data about the candidates.
When contacted Tuesday, Redkey declined to comment “at this time.
He also wrote in the complaint that Hemman “lied about discussion with candidates about committee members” and referencing video from the Westminster Police Department conference room on Oct. 19.
Hemman also allegedly failed to disclose possible conflicts of interest by committee members, and called the committee into executive session at its meeting “unwarranted and without cause,” the complaint says.
The committee had a closed session scheduled under state law to “consider applicants for employment by a preliminary screening committee.”
Redkey called for the committee to suspend activity to investigate the complaints and for an “outside, non-bias committee” to be appointed to complete the police chief search.
Murphy declined to comment about the violation because the committee has not yet had the chance to review it.
The search committee will address the open meeting law complaint and appoint a new chairman at its next meeting that that has yet to be scheduled.
Under state law, a public body that receives an opening meeting law complaint must review it within 14 business days and respond in writing and send the complainant a description of action it has taken to address concerns.
The police chief search began after longtime chief Sam Albert retired in July. About 30 people from in and out of Massachusetts applied for the position.
Committee members that included local police and fire department members, department heads, residents, and the town administrator had reviewed applications and reference letters. Using that information, they scored the candidates and decided to interview six.
After the interviews, the committee will forward several from that pool to the Board of Selectmen.
Murphy said the goal is still to hire a new chief by the end of the year.
Serving on the committee are the town administrator, Ashburnham Police Chief Loring Barrett, Jr., Westminster Fire Lt. David Monty, Westminster Police Officer Amy Nelson, Council on Aging Director Susan Fisher, Public Works Commission Chair Lorraine Emerson, Westminster Elementary Principal Kathy Taylor, and at-large members John Fairbanks and Redkey.
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