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Dracut selectmen split on strong chiefs
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By John Collins, [email protected]
7
UPDATED: 04/14/2014 12:57:29 PM EDT
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DRACUT -- A divided Board of Selectmen is scheduled to hold a final debate and vote
Tuesday on whether to strip incoming Town Manager James Duggan's authority to hire,
0
fire, promote and discipline Dracut's Police and Fire Department personnel.
The requested change to the Town Charter is being initiated jointly by Fire Chief David
Brouillette and Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand.
0
Selectman Joe DiRocco, a former Dracut
fire chief, supports the change, while Selectman
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Tony Archinski, a former Dracut police lieutenant, opposes it, as do Gary Nolan, an
attorney who represents Dracut's police supervisors and patrolman's union, and Paul
Hynes, an attorney who represents the town's firefighters union.
Nolan and Hynes cautioned the board that the change could lead to higher
legal costs.
(/portlet/article/html/imageDisplay.jsp?
contentItemRelationshipId=5875019)
Chartrand:
"Chiefs need
ability ... to
run their
departments."
Sun staff
photos can
be ordered
by visiting
our
SmugMug
(http://mnglow.smugmug.com)
site.
They cited as examples the only two instances in Massachusetts in which
ultimate control was granted to its chiefs -- to the fire chief in Chelmsford,
and police chief in Hudson. Both municipalities have been afflicted with an
(/portlet/article/html/imageDisplay.jsp?
inordinate number of costly lawsuits filed by police and fire personnel whose disciplinary
contentItemRelationshipId=5875018)
cases and appeals have spiraled out of control, the attorneys said.
Brouillette:
"Are we
running our
departments
... or not?"
The Town Charter's "strong town manager" form of government was installed in 1986.
Brouillette and Chartrand contend that the manager's current status as the "appointing
authority" in civil-service matters has enabled a nonpublic-safety professional to
Sun staff
photos can
be ordered
by visiting
potentially interfere, or "play politics with," departmental operations and hiring
our
SmugMug
decisions.
(http://mnglow.smugmug.com)
site.
Brouillette and Chartrand asked selectmen to place a proposed charter amendment
before voters at Town Meeting in June that would have the town abide by the "Strong
Chiefs Law/Chapter 48" passed by the state Legislature in 1957.
Brouillette acknowledged that Dracut's "strong town manager" system produced no problems during
the lengthy tenure of former Town Manager Dennis Piendak. However, he said there is no guarantee
of the same in the future.
"Are we running our departments without interference or not?" Brouillette asked
selectmen during a recent public hearing on the issue. "We had Dennis for 28 years, but he
was one of a kind."
Town Counsel Jim Hall said he has researched court cases from both sides dating back to
the enactment of the 1957 Strong Chiefs Law. He said the "strong town manager" law takes
precedence.
"Our charter that was passed in 1986 trumps the Strong Chiefs Law," Hall said. "The way it
works is that whatever was passed last rules. There were other towns that had this
question, and the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the town charter rules. There
are numerous other powers that are still intact under the Strong Chiefs Act, except for the
power to hire and fire.
"
Nolan told the board that Piendak, acting in his strong-manager role as a
mediator and appeals judge in personnel disciplinary cases, saved the town
(/portlet/article/html/imageDisplay.jsp?
contentItemRelationshipId=5875017)
Archinski:
"Why fix it if
it isn't
broken?"
Sun staff
photos can
be ordered
by visiting
our
SmugMug
(http://mnglow.smugmug.com)
site.
hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential litigation over three decades.
"I've been involved in some pretty public, messy cases that were resolved because your
(/portlet/article/html/imageDisplay.jsp?
town manager stepped in and resolved them," Nolan said. "He got people back to work.
contentItemRelationshipId=5875016)
He assured that there were no lawsuits. He got releases of liability. It happened multiple
DiRocco:
Supports the
times."
change.
Sun staff
Nolan cited legal costs in Hudson, where the fire chief has total control. "The Boston
photos can
be ordered
Globe did an article a few years ago that stated in a five-year period, (Hudson) spent
by visiting
our
$350,000 in civil-service attorney fees. And I say this from a perspective of somebody
SmugMug
(http://mngwho would benefit if you change this. The people who would benefit from this change are
low.smugmug.com)
the lawyers. Good business for me, it's bad business for you."
site.
Similarly, Hynes warned selectmen that Chelmsford opened a legal can of worms by giving the fire
chief sole responsibility over disciplinary decisions within his department.
"It does not work in Chelmsford," Hynes said. "There are numerous cases pending at the Division of
Labor Relations. There are grievances going to arbitration because you don't have a professional town
manager reviewing personnel decisions of the fire chief. You have one person making the decision,
and then you have the same person reviewing that decision, as the appeals hearing officer, to
determine if he got it right in the first place."
Hynes said if Dracut adopts the strong-chief amendment to its charter, it will force the union
firefighters to redo their collective-bargaining agreement.
"The current charter provides a system of checks and balances," he said. "Dracut's system is working.
Let your new town manager continue working as your prior town manager did for 30 years."
Chartrand, however, insisted that the Strong Chiefs amendment is needed.
"The chiefs need the ability to preserve the process that has been in effect, to run their departments
without political influences," Chartrand said.
Archinski said Friday that he hopes a majority of selectmen will stand with him Tuesday night in
declining the chiefs' request to take power from Duggan.
"We've been doing this for 30 years, without ever having a problem," Archinski said. "Why fix it if it
isn't broken? I like having an extra layer of review in disciplinary and promotional cases. Many
grievances in discipline cases are mitigated at the town-manager level."
It also would be unfair to Duggan to have enticed him to Dracut in large part because of its "strong
manager" form of government, only to change his working conditions upon his start, Archinski said.
"I am also fundamentally against giving complete authority to these chiefs without having any
accountability," Archinski said. "Strong Chiefs legislation pretty much gives life tenure to these chiefs,
and short of an indictment, there's not much we can do if we don't like the way the chiefs run their
department."
Approaching Tuesday's vote, Selectman Bob Cox and Chairwoman Cathy Richardson had not yet
firmly indicated how they were planning to vote on the Strong Chiefs proposal. Selectman John
Zimini appeared to side with Archinski, making several comments during the board's charter
discussion indicating he opposed "pecking away" at Dracut's strong town manager form of
government.
The board's special hearing and vote on the topic is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Harmony Hall.
Follow John Collins on Twitter and Tout at johncolowellsun.
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4 Comments
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Dracut_Observer
•
a month ago
I think both sides can and have worked for the town in the past. But its comments like
the one posted by the Executive Director that show where they stand. Unions cost the
towns money. They have one purpose, to protect their union members. They have no
regard for the welfare of the town or the constituents they are paid to protect. Get rid of
unions, reduce costs, no further arguments.
1
• Reply • Share ›
Mhmjjj2012
•
a month ago
Mhmjjj2012
•
a month ago
How can you hire someone as Town Manager then change the rules of the game before
he even starts his job? The incoming Town Manager doesn't even have a seat at the table
to give his opinion on the proposed change. Why take a lame duck vote on such an
important decision with the town election just a couple of weeks away?
1
• Reply • Share ›
Jerry Flynn
•
a month ago
Clearly, this change as proposed by the Fire Chief and Police Chief/Deputy is nothing
more than a attempt to circumvent the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the
Town of Dracut and the New England PBA, Local 4A and 4B. As the exclusive bargaining
agent, this would have enorrmous reprecussions on our appeal process at both the town
and state levels, thus violating our current collective bargaining agreement with the Town
of Dracut. Thus, forcing the New England PBA to take legal action against the Town of
Dracut.
Moreover, who will be disciplining the Deputy the next time he is involved in another
alcohol related mishap? PLEASE . . . .it's time to let the newly appointed Town Manager
do the job he was chosen to do without interferrence from those who have their own
politicial agenda!
Jerry Flynn, Executive Director
New England PBA
1
• Reply • Share ›
MakeReaganKing
Jerry Flynn • a month ago
Yeah, because no one in a union would have a political agenda. Boy, what a joke.
You might have actually swayed some people until you wrote that. Then you lost
any veil of credibility.
2
• Reply • Share ›
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