|Now what? Status of police chief contract remains unclear|
|Tuesday, 23 June 2009 21:00|
What happens now? Thatâ€™s the question many are asking in the wake of last Mondayâ€™s Board of Selectmen meeting.
At that meeting, the board voted 2-1 not to ratify Town Manager Richard MacDonaldâ€™s letter to Police Chief Mark DeLuca informing him his contract would not be renewed.
It is unclear what practical effect the vote will have on DeLucaâ€™s contract status when it expires Nov. 20. Chairwoman Betsy Sullivan said this week that because selectmen do not have the power to make appointments â€“â€“ per 1987â€™s Town Manager Act, that power resides with the town manager â€“â€“ the board cannot compel MacDonald to extend the chiefâ€™s contract.
â€œThe question that needs to be explored is, what happens when the contract expires,â€ she said.
MacDonald said Monday he believes a non-renewal does not equal a removal, but declined further comment.
â€œI am going to be guided by town counsel on the rest of this process,â€ he said.
Town Counsel Robert Troy said he is still looking at the complex legal issues surrounding last Mondayâ€™s meeting.
â€œIf itâ€™s just a matter of a contract, and itâ€™s decided that a non-renewal is not a removal, then the vote means nothing,â€ he said.
Because the Board of Selectmen cannot force MacDonald into renewing the contract, DeLucaâ€™s contract will end on Nov. 20 regardless of Mondayâ€™s vote, Troy said.
â€œNow what weâ€™re looking at, is there any other authority other than the contract?â€ he added.
DeLucaâ€™s attorney, Gerry McAuliffe of Quincy, declined to elaborate on what he thought would happen in November, but did not disagree with Troyâ€™s characterization of the contract.
â€œItâ€™s a contract, by its terms it has a beginning, middle and an end,â€ McAuliffe said.
Selectmen were sharply divided on the issue of â€œremovalâ€ versus â€œnon-renewalâ€ during their meeting last week and little has changed since.
â€œThe letter was not a termination,â€ Sullivan said this week. â€œIf there were an evergreen clause, why would you have a contract? A contract has a beginning, middle and an end.â€
Selectman Jon Witten released a written statement Monday in which he reiterated his belief that the non-renewal of the contact was a removal.
â€œThis is particularly so where, as with the police chief, the individual has been employed for a long-term period, including employment without a contract,â€ he wrote. (See full letter on page 20.)
Witten said in his letter that his vote was not intended to weaken the town manager act.
â€œSome decisions of the Town Manager are subject to review by the elected Board of Selectmen ... my vote last week assured, at least for now, the â€˜check and balanceâ€™ promised by Duxbury Town Meeting at the Massachusetts legislature between town employees and the Duxbury Town Manager.â€
Selectman Chris Donato did not immediately return further request for comment. He said during the meeting he believed MacDonaldâ€™s letter was tantamount to a removal.
â€œIn reality, itâ€™s a termination,â€ said Donato. â€œAt the end of the contract, heâ€™s not working for us.â€
A number of former selectmen took issue with that decision, including former three-term selectman Margaret Kearney.
â€œThe vote of 2-1 was not for the town, it was for a single employee,â€ Kearney said this week. She called the vote by Witten and Donato a â€œdisappointment.â€
For her part Sullivan said that she feels the decision weakened the power of the town manager and was not what Town Meeting had in mind when they created a strong town manager act.
â€œI think the actions that were taken Monday night compromised that document,â€ she said. â€œThese appointments are not political ... this is going to set a precedent on how selectmen interact with town managers.â€
Despite the disagreement among town officials, Troy said that he knows all parties involved want an answer to the question: what happens next. He said that he had some preliminary findings but could not discuss them.
â€œIâ€™m not looking for any particular result,â€ he said. â€œI want to be fair, and I want to be correct ... I believe, based on my record, that it will be correct.â€
Troy said he did not have any specific timetable as to when he would have further findings. McAuliffe said there were no plans for he and his client to meet with representatives from the town, although he did not rule out that possibility.
The Board of Selectmen is next scheduled to meet on Monday, June 29. At press-time no police related matters were on the agenda.
Click here to read a related story on a state statute that may give insight to the convoluted legal questions at issue.