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DALTON — When allegations against sidelined Dalton Police Chief Jeffrey E. Coe are heard Friday, it won't be his boss asking the questions.

Town Manager Kenneth Walto, citing his close friendship with Coe, has hired a consultant on municipal management to preside at a 1 p.m. session Friday at the Dalton Senior Center.

The nature of the allegations against Coe have not been made public, though one former employee of the department says she has filed a complaint alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

Coe remains on administrative leave after being relieved of duty this year.

Walto declined this week to specify complaints that led him to place Coe on leave. As town manager, Walto supervises the town's police chief. Coe was hired in February 2012.

While Walto said he holds the discretion to release materials related to the Coe matter, he would not do so.

"These are personnel matters and they're usually done in-house, even if it's termination," he said.

Because of his personal relationship with Coe, Walto said he decided to put another person in charge of Friday's hearing, hiring Patricia Vinchesi, the Northeast regional director of the International City/County Management Association.

"I thought it was the fairest thing that could be done," he said of tapping Vinchesi.

"She will hear all the evidence and make a recommendation," Walto said. "As far as I know, it will be held in public."

But, he added that Coe can request that the review be done in private.

"He can do that right up until the hearing. I need to give him the choice to close the hearing if he wants," Walto said.

Walto also declined this week to release a report the town commissioned into complaints involving Coe. The report was done by an outside investigator, APD Management.

The same firm, led by former Tewksbury chief Alfred P. Donovan, investigated allegations against former Officer John Marley. After multiple hearings that Marley allowed to be held in public, the Select Board on May 14 fired Marley for his lack of response to a November emergency call involving a despondent person.

A woman at the Dalton address in question later was found to have died by suicide.

Attorney Michael J. Akerson is representing Coe in his Dalton employment case. Akerson did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment on whether the meeting will be held in open session.

Nancy Daniels, a former dispatcher for the Dalton Police Department, said her attorney continues to seek action in Town Hall on a complaint in which she alleges that during her service with the department, Coe exercised undue influence in a case in which her performance was criticized.

In an interview, Daniels said she had been involved in a long-standing intimate relationship with Coe while working with him in the department, starting when he was a sergeant. When her work performance on a dispatching call came into question, and she risked losing her job, she said, Coe did not back her up, prompting her to file a complaint of discrimination and sexual harassment five or six years ago.

"He basically held that over my head," she said of Coe. "He told me that nothing can be said."

Walto confirmed that the town received such a complaint and it was investigated.

"There was no substance to it," he said.

Daniels, who served briefly as Hinsdale's police chief, said she never was interviewed about her allegation and cites a misstep by a previous attorney she had retained.

"The only reason my complaint didn't go forward is because my attorney didn't give me the proper information," she said.

She said her current attorney resubmitted the complaint in May. Walto said Daniels' allegations regarding Coe are not part of the matter that will be heard Friday.

Daniels said she plans to attend Friday's session, if it is open.

"I have nothing to hide," she said. "The truth is the truth."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


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