LEE -- Within two weeks, a citizens committee should be established to assist in the search to replace ousted police chief Joseph Buffis, fired last month by local officials who claim he improperly billed the town for his personal cellphone use.
Town Administrator Robert Nason says he expects to name the seven- to nine-person committee at the Board of Selectmen's meeting on Sept. 17.
Meanwhile, Nason on Wednesday expected the town to officially advertise the police chief's job by the middle of this month. He anticipates the search will take three months before the Selectmen vote on a final recommendation in early December.
The ad hoc citizens panel would be similar to the one created two years ago that recommended Buffis for the job. At that time, Buffis was picked to replace Ronald Glidden, who retired after 17 years as Lee's police chief. Glidden has since returned as interim police chief until a permanent one is found.
As in the previous search, the committee would review resumes, hold final interviews in public, and make a final recommendation to Nason, who, with the Selectmen's approval, has the municipal authority to hire the town's police chief.
"Some individuals from the previous committee have shown a willingness to serve," Nason told Selectmen on Tuesday night.
Longtime resident Bill Navin informed the board and Nason that many townspeople want a certain make up to the search committee.
"There's a lot of strong feelings to appoint [one or two] retired police officers to the committee," Navin said.
The Board of Selectmen voted on Aug. 20 to terminate Buffis' contract at a public meeting, saying the chief billed the town for nearly $5,000 over a two-year period for his family cellphone plan with Verizon Wireless. Buffis earned nearly $74,000 annually from the town.
Buffis, through is attorney Lori Levinson, claims Nason had agreed the town would pay for his personal cellphone service as part of being hired as chief in September 2011. But Nason has emphatically denied the claim, as has town attorney Jeremia Pollard.
The three-member board said its unanimous decision to fire Buffis -- on Nason's recommendation -- was unrelated to a federal indictment accusing the former police chief of extortion and money laundering.
At the same Aug. 20 meeting, the Selectmen officially hired Glidden at $1,250 per week until a permanent successor to Buffis is sworn in. On Aug. 9, Nason appointed Glidden as acting chief after suspending Buffis without pay until the adjudication of his federal case. The suspension came one day after a federal grand jury indicted Buffis on charges he allegedly extorted money from a Lee couple and funneled it through a holiday children's toy charity he once managed.
Meanwhile, Buffis last week denied the federal charges against him in U. S. District Court. On Aug. 29 in Springfield, the former police chief was arraigned on one count of extortion by wrongful use of fear and three counts of money laundering. He was released on personal recognizance pending a status hearing Dec. 4.
Buffis, 55, faces up to 20 years in federal prison on each count if convicted of the charges.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, in February 2012, Buffis coerced a Lee couple to donate $4,000 to the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund that he controlled in exchange for a deal in which he would not go forward with prostitution-related charges against them.
According to federal prosecutors, the chief then transferred that money to his own account, used it for personal expenses and lied to investigators about it.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
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