Egremont Selectmen, former police chief at odds over her return to the department
EGREMONT -- The Board of Selectmen and Reena Bucknell, the former police chief, have agreed to resume closed-door negotiations after both sides reached an impasse in what role she would hold if she returns to the department.
Bucknell at a public meeting on July 8 defended her management of the department and requested to temporarily resume the leadership role she held for 15 years until February when she was placed on paid leave following a vote of no confidence from her officers. She hoped to complete unfinished responsibilities and repair her reputation.
In a meeting Monday night, the Selectmen outlined for her a far different role, similar to a consultant. The role would be heavily supervised, which would include she be escorted by specified town personnel while on property and not have contact with police personnel.
Acting interim Police Chief Brian Shaw would continue to assume all management of the police department.
Selectmen said Bucknell could provide police procedural recommendations and long-term planning that would need to be worked out with Shaw and approved by the Board.
Town Attorney Jeremia Pollard said he tried to mediate a possible return for Bucknell, but the department officers wouldn't budge.
A mediation between Bucknell and police department "has to be voluntary and, more importantly, it has to be something that is going somewhere and it wasn't," Pollard said. "It really wasn't, as simple as that."
There was no decision made Monday when the closed-door meeting would take place. Despite Bucknell's request to assume management of the department, Selectmen seemed unwilling, or unable, to turn a blind eye to a report produced by consultant Robert Pomeroy that was critical of the chief's management and a lingering divide between the former chief and employees.
The report identified financial oddities, high turnover, police officer training issues, and antiquated policies and procedures. Bucknell defended her management attributing turnover to officers assuming positions with larger department or full-time positions. She said officers were offered training opportunities and the officer handbook was being updated.
Through all these discussions, there has been the looming threat of a lawsuit from Bucknell if the town and her don't reach an amicable accord about her departure.
Under the terms outlined by the Selectmen, Bucknell also would waive her right to a lawsuit.
During one point at Monday's meeting, Bucknell sought clarification on the state statute requiring a police chief assume certain responsibilities. The role outlined by the Selectmen would require her to ignore state statute by not assuming certain duties, such as not being in charge of personnel.
"This is impossible to do unless you tell me explicitly I have to ignore state law, and I don't think I can do that," Bucknell said.
Pollard at one point responded, "You wouldn't have any control" over the department.
Bucknell, who attended the meeting with her lawyer, spoke minimally except to ask for clarification on some of the terms.
During a July 8 meeting, Bucknell defended her management and her attorney had experienced law enforcement questions the findings made by a chief running a substantially larger agency. At that meeting, Selectmen agreed Bucknell would assume some role with the department through Oct. 31. Following that meeting, Bucknell said she was "happy" with the findings.
Following Monday's meeting, Bucknell had no comment.
Selectmen Charles Flynn took the toughest stand against Bucknell when he raised a motion to allow the chief to stay on through July 31 at which time she would step down. If she did not retire, she would be fired, according to his proposal.
The motion did not receive a second from Selectmen Bruce Turner and Selectwoman Mary Brazie.
"There is a clear failure to lead and a clear failure to organize," Flynn said on Tuesday. "There is a clear failure to run the department in the proper way."
He added, "This [department] does not exist for Bucknell, but for the town of Egremont, which has been around 250 years."
Following the meeting, Turner was asked if there is any room to negotiate a possible return of Bucknell as chief.
He implied she wouldn't be returning as chief. He referenced the consultant report and rift between the chief and the officers.
"We're willing to talk, but based on the findings ... you can figure it out," Turner said.