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A House Divided Cannot Stand
(and must be fixed)
Jim Rurak

What started as a flap over the news that the police chief is job shopping has now become a full blown politcal fiasco. For the sake of public safety and confidence, it’s got to stop. But it won’t be easy.

Here’s the problem. Thus far, almost everyone’s position is suspect. The chief says he’s job shopping because the mayor is attacking his contract behind closed doors. But if the chief really has a legal contract, one which gives him what he says he wants, namely life tenure, then why should even such feeble efforts make him nervous? He may be using his tenured Haverhill job to negotiate for a better job somewhere else.

The mayor and Councilor Mitchitson do not want an open review of the chief’s contract because they seem to fear that this will frighten him away. He does seem popular. The mayor claims he wants the chief to stay, but admits he’s reviewed the contract. Councilors Hall, Hart and Fossarelli smell a rat and say that if the chief leaves, the mayor’s to blame. The mayor says they’re playing politics, but they clearly see that he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth.

So, we have a chief who’s either insecure or secretly ambitious and who is publicly criticizing his boss, the mayor. We have a mayor who wants to gain authority over a tenured employee, but doesn’t want to take political heat for doing it. And we have councillors circling around the issue waiting for the fall-out. It’s classic politics, the rhetoric is sharp but the real issue remains hidden. If it continues, public safety will suffer.
But so far there is only one thing we really know. In spite of the best efforts of now and former city officials to give him life tenure, the chief is now out looking for a job. Either he thinks his contract is truly weak and so is legitimately insecure, or, he’s playing our city to advance his career. What’s the truth?

There’s one way of finding out. Some weeks ago Councilor Ryan called for a full-scale and open review of the chief’s contract by the City Council itself. The council refused, saying it is the mayor’s job, not theirs. But we really don’t know what the mayor’s up to, and the Council clearly has the power to call for an independent legal opinion on a contract it seems obligated to fund for ten years.

Billy Ryan’s challenge is on target. In fact, it’s the only way to move beyond this fiasco.It will force the mayor to be clear as to what, if any, concerns he has. It will give councilors an opportunity to question lawyers and to ask the chief what his intentions really are. And it will give the public a chance to weigh in. Most of all, it will clear the air! That’s the only remedy to our now divided house.

Forthwith, the City Council should undertake a thorough and independent legal review of the chief’s contract. The mayor should fund it. And the chief should welcome it! Whatever the outcome, a clarified contract will finally be in place, a contract that gives appropriate job security to the chief, proportionate supervisory authority to the mayor, and full assurance to the public that the chief is fully committed to our city.


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(March Edition)

Prior Columns by Jim Rurak