EGREMONT -- Following a mutiny and a unanimous no-confidence vote in her leadership by her officers, Police Chief Reena Bucknell bas been suspended with pay as the Select Board investigates official complaints by the town's police force.
One officer accused her of fostering a "hostile work environment."
Board members took the action at their Tuesday meeting and referred questions to Chairman Bruce Turner, who told The Eagle on Wednesday that the chief "will be given ample opportunity to make her case through due process and out of fairness to her. It's a very awkward and uncomfortable situation for the community."
"We're going to do our investigating and talk to the officers," Turner said. He declined to give a timetable for a resolution of the matter.
The Select Board's action followed a memo signed by five of Egremont's officers, who are members of the town's police union (Teamsters Local 404), claiming "a divide" between the officers and the chief that had become "increasingly more and more evident."
The officers said the letter was being written "with a profound sense of sadness."
At a meeting on Feb. 15, all seven full- and part-time officers voted "no confidence" in the chief, "after countless meetings, complaints and internal debate regarding Chief Bucknell's behavior."
The letter reporting the unanimous vote was submitted to the Select Board the following day.
Bucknell, an Otis resident and a professor of criminal justice at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, did not return a call from The Eagle on Wednesday afternoon. She was the first female police chief in the county, having been appointed to the Egremont post 15 years ago following service in the Lenox Police Department.
In a separate memo to Egremont Personnel Director Bill Tighe, distributed to all three Select Board members, Officer Jeremy Pilone stated that when he was hired in November 2012, he had been promised that he would become the town's next police chief. Once on the job, he wrote, Bucknell told him that he would be made a supervisor "to develop a new rank structure for this agency."
"I later found out that this, too, was possibly a farce," Pilone contended.
"The chief has effectively created a hostile working environment for all officers (myself included)," he claimed. "The unity and ‘brotherhood' commonly found in all law-enforcement agencies has completely been destroyed."
Pilone wrote that, "I routinely feel ill upon reporting for duty because of the constant barrage of lies, misinformation and drama I may face upon walking in the door." He cited a high turnover rate and claimed that the Egremont department has developed a reputation at other area agencies as "a laughing stock and an unprofessional department," because of Bucknell's leadership "or lack thereof."
He also accused Bucknell of "odd behavior and inconsistent statements."
"Thus far, I have performed my duties with integrity and pride, only to be lied to and made to feel like a second-class citizen," Pilone stated in his letter.
He also wrote that during his hiring process, Bucknell called him "day and night" for "chats" and to disparage the performance of her officers, members of the Select Board and other applicants for the position.
"I found it odd that Chief Bucknell was so candid with me, being that she had never met me and had only spoken to me briefly. This was a sign of things to come," Pilone wrote.
Pilone also contended that the chief had kept him away from other officers for some time after he was hired. When he questioned her, Pilone wrote, "she jokingly replied that ‘I don't want you to become like them and gang up on me.' "
Eventually, according to Pilone, he was allowed to meet fellow officers "under her watchful eye and supervision."
"Never in my 20 years in law enforcement have I seen a supervisor go to such great lengths to ‘divide and conquer' an agency," Pilone stated.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto