Incoming Stockbridge Police chief signs three-year contract

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STOCKBRIDGE — Sgt. Darrell Fennelly, chosen unanimously by the Select Board on March 30 to succeed outgoing Police Chief Robert Eaton, has signed a three-year contract following negotiations at two of the Board's executive sessions.

The Selectmen voted 3-0 on Wednesday to approve the agreement, which takes effect on May 1, the day after Eaton leaves for his new post as police chief in the larger Middlesex County community of Townsend.

The contract states that Fennelly, who was promoted by Eaton to sergeant last fall, will be responsible for administrative control of the six-officer Stockbridge force and will supervise daily operations and all department personnel.

He is also tasked with preparing and submitting the department's budget, as well as submitting oral or written reports to the town when requested or required "in order to ensure proper communication between the town and the police department," the contract states.

Other provisions include "being responsible for communications with the public, including the media, on matters related to crime, police operations and department policy."

The chief is also called on to supervise all department expenditures, equipment and motor vehicles, procuring weapons, ammunition, uniforms and equipment, supervising reserve and special officers, and controlling all training programs.

Maintaining department discipline, integrity and professionalism as well as being responsible for planning organizing, directing, staffing and coordinating police operations are among other tasks specified in the contract.

Fennelly's base salary will be $90,000 in year one, with 2.5 percent increases taking effect in July of 2017 and 2018. The contract would be extended automatically for an additional three years beyond June 30, 2019, unless the chief or the Select Board ask in writing to renegotiate or not to renew it at least a year before it expires.

The contract acknowledges the possibility that the town might enter a shared-services agreement to consolidate some or all of its public safety functions with other towns.

If that happens, the police chief and the town may negotiate to restructure his position. If the negotiations fail, the town could terminate the chief's contract with 90 days notice, but Fennelly would have the right to resume his position as sergeant within 30 days of a termination notice.

But no termination could take place before May 1, 2018, the contract states.

"I feel great, very excited and relieved to have the contract over with so now we can move on and get to the business at hand," Fennelly told The Eagle.

"I want to be able to meet with everybody, have an open relationship and work with the people of Stockbridge," he added. "I want them to feel comfortable coming to me with their concerns and I would like to work with the citizens to create solutions to whatever issues they may have."

"I'm very pleased that Darrell and the Select Board reached an agreement," said board Chairman Charles Gillett in an interview. "I look forward to him being the police chief for many years and I know he'll do a very good job."

Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo described the contract with Fennelly as "very well-negotiated, all my questions were answered, and this will be good for the town."

The contract provisions line up with the state's "strong police chief" statute, adopted by town meeting voters in 1997.

However, a citizens petition on the May 16 annual town meeting warrant proposes a repeal of the "strong chief" statute as it applies to the Stockbridge police chief. A two-thirds vote is required for approval. The petition, signed by 22 certified voters, reflected discontent by some residents over Eaton's style of policing.

Cardillo pointed out that the three Select Board members acknowledged on Wednesday that if the petition passes, Fennelly's duties would be modified to conform with the state's "weak chief" law.

That statute gives the Select Board the authority to regulate the department's internal policies and procedures, though the chief retains control over "all town property used by the department, and of the police officers, who shall obey his orders."

"We don't want to go against the town's voters," Cardillo said in an Eagle interview. "I have no opinion yet on a weak chief or a strong chief, but either way, the Select Board, police chief and the town will be working together a lot better, whether or not the petition passes."

Gillett said that if the "weak chief" citizens petition is approved, "we would have to abide by that vote."

"I have no concerns about a 'weak chief,' " said Fennelly. "My plan is to run everything by the Select Board anyway, working with them as much as possible, taking guidance from them so I don't know how much anything would change. If it does pass, we will continue to provide the best service for the citizens of Stockbridge. That will never change."

Fennelly, 47, a Tyringham native and now a Lee resident, joined the Stockbridge department in 2008 after serving for eight years as an officer in Becket. Strongly recommended by Eaton, he was promoted to second-in-command last November as the first sergeant on the force since Louis Peyron, Sr., retired in January 2006 after 45 years of service.

After working at Lee Bank and Mead Paper, Fennelly spent several years in Arizona and downstate New York before returning to the Berkshires to join the Becket force. He graduated from the full-time police academy in Agawam in 2003, and was hired for the Stockbridge force by former Chief Richard "Rick" Wilcox in 2008.

"I'm going to try to bring a style that's a happy medium between Rick Wilcox and Chief Eaton," said Fennelly. "I want to be open, transparent and fair to all and continue to provide the best service to the town of Stockbridge."

Before his promotion, Fennelly underwent supervision, leadership and management training with the FBI, and served for two weeks last summer in the Pittsfield Police Department's field officer training program.

Eaton started work as Stockbridge police chief in February 2014 and after his resignation won high marks from the Select Board for "bringing a new level of professionalism to the department, instituting modern police methods and practices, greatly improving officer training and most significantly retaining an exceptional group of young men and women to serve in the department."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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