STOCKBRIDGE — Even though Police Chief Robert Eaton's three-year contract has another 14 months to run, Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo broached the subject of its potential renewal at the Select Board's most recent meeting.
"The police chief's contract is coming up in February to be either looked at to be reviewed or to pass along for another three years," said Cardillo. "I think in all fairness to the police chief and to the town, we should look into opening it up to renegotiate."
Asked by Selectman Stephen Shatz to clarify his statement, Cardillo asserted that "the police chief's contract states that if you don't make a decision in February to renegotiate, it's automatically renewed for three years. I feel that it should be open for negotiation for his behalf and the town's behalf because people asked me to bring that up."
After stating that "we intend to do that ... probably after the first of the year," Select Board Chairman Charles Gillett pointed out that negotiations with public employees are held in confidential executive sessions, according to state laws affecting all communities in Massachusetts.
Town Administrator Jorja-Ann Marsden told The Eagle that before the end of January, the Select Board will decide whether to renegotiate Eaton's contract or let it automatically be renewed for another three years beyond February 2017.
During the public comment portion of the recent Selectmen's meeting, as televised by CTSB (Channel 18), several residents asked whether they could voice their opinions at an open meeting.
Gillett and Shatz told them any resident can attend a scheduled Monday night or Wednesday morning public Select Board session if they contact Marsden in advance to schedule a discussion of the police chief's status as an agenda item.
Resident John Hart, a sharp critic of town government and the police chief, declared that since contract negotiations involve dollars, "I find it a little obtuse that, being that these are our tax dollars, that we are not privy to that information because it is discussed in executive sessions."
"The Selectmen in executive session negotiate with all the employees who have contracts of various kinds," Gillett responded. "So when we have police negotiations with the union, we meet with them and only them." The same applies to employees of other town departments.
"Who makes the decision on whether or not we're going to even enter negotiations and renegotiate and renew contracts?" asked resident David Rosenthal. "Does the public have a right to help the Selectmen decide whether or not to actually enter negotiations with all of these people?"
"You may as well not have a Board of Selectmen under those circumstances, and just allow the town meeting to negotiate every contract," Shatz responded. "Some people would like that, I understand that."
But Rosenthal said his point was not about negotiating a contract, but "whether or not we are permitted to express opinions on whether or not that person is the right person for the job."
"There are plenty of avenues open for discussion," Shatz said, citing Finance Committee sessions, "baby town meeting" and annual town meetings. "If you don't happen to like the person who the Select Board is considering retaining, whether it's the police chief, the fire chief or the highway superintendent, or the town administrator, then you have an absolute right to make your feelings known — of course you do. No one would ever question that," he stressed.
But, Shatz said, "the ultimate responsibility is with the Board of Selectmen, as long as we have this form of government."
Rosenthal claimed that "a perfect storm is brewing here," citing the recent decision by Memorial Day Races and SummerSound organizer Matt Linick to move his annual event from the Tanglewood grounds in Lenox and Stockbridge to the Butternut ski area in Great Barrington.
In an interview with The Eagle, Linick had cited financial problems and what he described as difficulties dealing with the Stockbridge police chief and town government. Chief Eaton explained that Linick had resisted following standard national procedures and guidelines applying to public events that draw sizable crowds.
But Rosenthal asserted that "we weren't given a good reason as to why this guy moved the event. We should know the answer to that, for the next event — why was it lost and we should drill down to see if perhaps we've set up something here where people don't want to work with us."
Shatz responded that "it's very important for any enterprise, for-profit or nonprofit, that uses our roads, that has the potential for tying up emergency services, to pay attention and adhere to established policies. We were not getting the kind of cooperation that we had asked for and he chose to leave because he didn't want to spend the money to undertake the supervision that would have been necessary. It was his choice, not ours."
Gillett, referring to last year's races as "pretty much of a helter-skelter type of thing," noted that Chief Eaton tried to impose "minimum standards" for next year's event, including adequate police coverage, "and the gentleman [Linick] decided that he did not want to meet the chief's minimum standards."
Marsden, the town administrator, commented that as Linick increased the scope of his annual events, notably the new SummerSound rock band concerts and a liquor license request, additional permits were required.
"He was not happy when I told him he had to notify all the neighbors," Marsden recalled, "and that he had to put the bands as far away on Tanglewood's property from the neighbors as possible. That did not happen, and I had a lot of complaints. He made that choice not to work with us."
Hart, who works in the tourism business, declared that "events like this, especially over multiple years, tend to bring more and more and more dollars to the county."