EGREMONT -- The Board of Selectmen want a public debate on whether the town should hire another full-time police chief to replace Reena Bucknell, who was ousted from the job last week.
The board says discussion will begin Oct. 7, two weeks after the three-member panel fired Bucknell for failing to meet a deadline to sign an agreement that would have led to her amicable departure from the Egremont Police Department.
"We plan to talk at the next selectmen's meeting on how to proceed to find a new chief," said Selectman Charles Flynn.
While Egremont currently has a part-time interim police chief, Selectman Mary Brazie believes the eight-person police force needs a full-time chief.
The board's remarks came during Monday night's special town meeting, which included an article to fund the acting police chief account through the end of fiscal 2014 on June 30. However, voters postponed indefinitely action on the proposed $42,656 expenditure, as the town no longer has to pay for both a part-time police chief and Bucknell, who was on a paid suspension.
Bucknell had been on paid administrative leave since February, collecting $34,000, before her contract was terminated Sept. 23. Stockbridge Police Officer Brian Shaw has been the part-time interim chief since mid-June, earning roughly $5,000 a month.
The special town meeting did approve increasing the police budget by $22,687, mostly to cover negotiated pay raises for the unionized officers, a deal reached after the budget was approved at the annual town meeting.
However, several townspeople and four of the six Finance Committee members felt the department needs to "get its house in order" before giving it more money.
Resident Richard Allen urged voters to abide by the annual town meeting's decision to level fund police spending at $297,000.
"Here's what we want to spend on the police budget -- live with it," Allen said.
The divisiveness over the pay hikes stems from the upheaval within the police department that came to light seven months ago.
The selectmen placed Bucknell on paid administrative leave Feb.19 following a vote of no-confidence by the department's officers.
In a closed-door session on Aug. 12, the board and Bucknell negotiated an agreement regarding her future role in the department, but the agreement was rescinded following the firing. The board claims Bucknell failed to respond by a Sept. 20 deadline, the primary reason she was let go.
Her attorney, Michael Atkinson of Worcester, has denied the town's claim of a deadline and in a statement last week, cited the selectmen for acting rashly and dealing with the chief in bad faith.
Following Bucknell's suspension, consultant Robert Pomeroy, of Pomeroy Resources Inc., conducted an independent review of the department. Pomeroy's report was critical of the department's management practices and provided recommendations to rectify the problems.
The report identified high turnover, training issues, antiquated police procedures and improper follow-through on grant-application provisions.
Bucknell has accused the Selectmen of harboring grudges against her, and during a public meeting in July, she defended herself against the report's findings.
Throughout discussions between Bucknell and the town, there's been the looming threat of a lawsuit, which led to the agreement.
The deal would have paid Bucknell roughly $65,000 through the end of the fiscal year in exchange for her relinquishing the right to sue the town. She would also retain her health benefits through the fiscal year.