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A large crowd packed the town hall Monday night to show their support for Police Chief Mark DeLuca, some calling on selectmen to remove Town Manager Richard MacDonald from office and threatening to revoke the Town Manager Act.
A few residents did defend the town manager, however, and the husband of a former police officer charged DeLuca and the petition organizers with intimidation.
DeLucaâ€™s supporters presented selectmen with a petition signed by over 500 Duxbury residents who want the police chief to keep his job. In June, MacDonald announced he would not renew DeLucaâ€™s contract, which expires Nov. 20. Under the Town Manager Act of 1987, the town manager has the ability to appoint or remove the police chief.
Supporters said DeLuca has been a good chief for the town and did not understand why MacDonald has chosen not to continue his employment. Petition organizer John Canty of Blodgett Avenue asked MacDonald to explain his decision and offer his reasons, but MacDonald refused.
â€œIt is not the practice of the Town of Duxbury to discuss employees or employeesâ€™ contracts in a public forum,â€ said MacDonald. â€œMy decision on this is final. I am not going to discuss the contract.â€
Canty said he felt town government needed to be more transparent and added that he and DeLucaâ€™s supporters would return to the selectmenâ€™s meetings weekly until the chiefâ€™s contract is renewed.
Steve Peterson of Bolas Road called on selectmen to remove MacDonald.
â€œChief DeLuca is a decent man. Heâ€™s an honorable man. I am ashamed that this issue has even come up,â€ said Peterson, a 36-year resident of Duxbury. â€œThe issue here is that one man doesnâ€™t rule town government. This is offensive to the people in the town. Letâ€™s remove the town manager, because this is wrong.â€
Peterson called on selectmen to revoke the Town Manager Act and singled out Selectman Jon Witten, saying now was his â€œcharge to step up to the plateâ€ and that voting to get rid of MacDonald would make him a â€œshoe-in for re-election.â€
Selectman Jon Witten said he would not vote to remove the town manager, an action he called â€œreckless.â€
â€œIâ€™d need grounds to remove the town manager,â€ said Witten. â€œIâ€™m not going to do anything that is illegal or reckless. I donâ€™t believe there is cause to remove the town manager.â€
Selectman Christopher Donato said he had reviewed DeLucaâ€™s personal file and could find no reason for letting him go. Donato was upset that DeLuca had not been evaluated by MacDonald in three years and called it a disservice to DeLuca to have unfounded insinuations about him â€œhanging in the air.â€
â€œIn good conscience, you must explain your reasons,â€ Donato told MacDonald. â€œI donâ€™t feel that no answer is acceptable. If you do not conduct evaluations for three consecutive years and then insinuate there are personnel issues, I donâ€™t think the problem is with the chief.â€
Donato tried to make a motion to order MacDonald to tell selectmen his reasons but selectmen did not take action on it, although Witten asked MacDonald if he would explain his decision.
â€œIâ€™m not going to get into it,â€ said MacDonald. â€œThis is a slippery slope,â€ he added. â€œThis is an action under the Town Manager Act and Iâ€™m very cautious to discuss any personnel issues in this forum.â€
MacDonald explained that the reason there were no performance evaluations done on DeLuca in three years was because he was told by the townâ€™s attorney not to do them, as long as DeLuca was involved in forming a managerâ€™s labor union.
DeLucaâ€™s son, Mark, said the problem was personal.
â€œItâ€™s pretty cut and dry,â€ Mark DeLuca Jr. said. â€œThe town manager does not like my father. My father has no infractions. He has heart and guts. He should go somewhere where he is wanted. Youâ€™re very cold and pretty rude, if you ask me.â€
Bobby Farrelly of Simmons Drive said this situation was a negative one for the town.
â€œWe have a lose-lose situation here,â€ said Farrelly. â€œIf the chief is run out of town, I predict there will be a groundswell to run you [MacDonald] out behind him, so we lose two good men and for what? It seems silly.â€
Witten said he was still â€œhopefulâ€ that MacDonald would agree to negotiate with DeLuca. However, he said the selectmen had no power to pressure MacDonald.
â€œIf the selectmen had the vote, the selectmen would have taken the vote by now,â€ said Witten.
DeLuca said he has not spoken to MacDonald regarding his contract, although his attorney has met with selectmen and MacDonald in executive session on at least two previous occasions and met again with them at the end of Mondayâ€™s meeting.
â€œIâ€™ll sit down any time,â€ said DeLuca.
Sullivan said she needed to support the Town Manager Act because one of the reasons it had been approved by the people of Duxbury was to avoid situations like this.
â€œMy support for this decision is support for the Town Manager Act,â€ said Sullivan.
John Britten of Upland Road said he was a â€œbig fanâ€ of DeLuca but disagreed with what was being said about him at the meeting. He said DeLucaâ€™s supporters were wrong to say that the town had â€œdemeanedâ€ the police chief.
â€œThe chief was given notice of the non-renewal of his contract,â€ said Britten. â€œThis is no reflection on the chief and the job he has done. The town manager has just chosen another direction. The chief is not being run out of town. His contract has not been renewed. He was given six months notice.â€
Britten disagreed that the whole town was upset about the issue. He said that there were 10,000 registered voters in Duxbury and only 500 had signed the petition to save the chiefâ€™s job. Britten called that a â€œsmall minority.â€
Tom Garafolo of Kingstown Way said his wife used to work as a police office officer under DeLuca but quit her job after alleging DeLuca verbally harassed her. She subsequently sued.
Garafolo also said he was asked to sign the petition to keep the chief while at the transfer station recently, and when he refused, the signature collector took down his license plate.
â€œThis department is run by fear and intimidation,â€ said Garafolo. He said that after his wife, while working for the department, was harrassed for not signing a petition being circulated by DeLuca. â€œHe pulled my wife into his office and berated her with foul language,â€ Garafolo said. He spit on the floor in front of her.â€
DeLuca, who was in attendance at the meeting, interrupted Garafolo, screaming â€œIt never happened!â€
When Garafolo held up a manila folder saying he had proof of changed reports, DeLuca rose out of his chair in the audience and moved toward Garafolo to take his folder, saying he couldnâ€™t have police reports in his possession. Garafolo responded that the papers were not police reports but rather documents obtained by his wifeâ€™s lawyer.
â€œIt is a report the chief handed out shortly after 9/11,â€ he said.
Donato said he couldnâ€™t consider this information in the context of the current discussion, because that incident happened after the chiefâ€™s contract had been renewed.
â€œI think we have to start from the last contract (with the chief)â€ said Donato.
Canty said they would continue to gather signatures and would continue to return to the selectmen. â€œThis is really important to a lot of people,â€ he said.