By Brenda Crowell
At Milford’s Annual Town Meeting on May 25, Town Meeting members voted down an article that would have eliminated the Police Chief Selection Committee.
Article 19 called for the amendment, replacement, or repeal of Article 32 of the Town By-Laws, which states, “When a vacancy in the position of police chief exists, or is anticipated to exist by reason of resignation, retirement, dismissal, permanent total disability, or non-renewal of the incumbent,” the Select Board will appoint a Police Chief Selection Review Committee within 30 days of that determination. The Committee would be tasked with establishing criteria for the position of Police Chief, recruit applicants and review applications, and submit three to five finalists to the Select Board.
“The intent of Article 32, the Police Chief Review Committee, to depoliticize the hiring process for the position of Chief of Police, is laudable,” said Select Board Chair Thomas O’Loughlin, who was a longtime Milford police chief. “Unfortunately, the majority of the Board of Selectmen on several 2-1 votes manipulated the Police Chief Review Committee, ignored recommendations of the Committee, and then failed to comply with the bylaw when they appointed an Administrative Chief of Police as they submitted to the courts, or a Chief of Police who did not have police powers, who was not an applicant for the position, and who also served as a member of the Police Chief Review Committee.”
O’Loughlin added that Massachusetts General Law (MGL) Chapter 48, or the Strong Chief by-law, supersedes Article 32, making the article null and void.
“When a committee works well, we have checks and balances to oversee the most powerful role in Milford,” said Christine Crean of Precinct 6. “This isn’t about not trusting the Select Board. Because we had one bad incident clearly a while ago where the process didn’t work is no reason to throw out an opportunity to have shared responsibility between this committee and the Select Board.”
Precinct 5’s Dan Nero said that he has been a member of two Police Chief Selection Committees.
“In April, Selectman (Michael) Walsh stated that the Police Chief should be appointed by the Select Board, not by a committee who has no background in law enforcement,” Nero said. “My position was as the Federal law enforcement officer, Supervisor of Criminal Investigations for the United States Treasury with 30 years of experience, and 30 years experience as a military officer holding the position of Inspector General for the 26th Division of the Massachusetts National Guard. The current Police Chief Selection Committee consists of a police chief, a supervisor of criminal investigations, a senior officer of the command staff of the Milford Police Department, a senior police officer from an adjacent town, a current Selectman, and a former Selectman,” among others.
Selectman Paul Mazzuchelli pointed out that Article 32 was written in the 1990s and is about 25 years old.
“A lot has changed with police departments just in the past two years with the George Floyd incident, more so in the past two years than in the past 50 years,” Mazzuchelli said. “We should now at least consider revising this article.”
Dr. Richard Heller, representing Precinct 1, made a motion to refer the question of repealing the article to a committee of three town meeting members appointed by the moderator, with that committee to share their findings at the next town meeting. A motion to commit, thereby ended discussion and going straight to the vote, was also made.
The motion to commit passed, but Heller’s motion failed. Article 19 was then defeated by a margin of 94 votes in favor and 20 opposed.