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Weare selectmen pick Kelly to remain as police chief

Last modified: 5/7/2015 12:30:21 AM
Weare selectmen want interim police Chief Sean Kelly to stay on in a more permanent role.

Their decision comes after town officials had already started the process of looking for a new full-time chief. Before it’s finalized, the town will hold two public hearings to let residents weigh in.

If confirmed, Kelly will work as a part-time chief.

Kelly is a member of the New Hampshire Retirement System and collects a $54,571 pension. As a retiree who has returned to work in the public sector, he is required to work only part-time hours, defined by state law as 32 hours a week or fewer, or 1,300 hours a year.

At a meeting April 27, selectmen said they were going to keep Kelly on because they believed consistency in the department was “more important than ever.”

“There was a majority feeling on the board that we were looking for stability,” said Selectman Tom Clow.

A week earlier, on April 20, officials interviewed residents hoping to serve on a panel to help select candidates.

Selectmen also met with Kelly in a nonpublic session earlier that night. At the end of their meeting, they decided to negotiate a contract with Kelly, according to meeting minutes.

Some residents who attended that meeting said they wanted the new chief to be full time to oversee the full-time force, according to the minutes.

Clow said that was an important consideration for him as well.

But ultimately, having stable leadership in the department trumped his reservations.

“We have someone in place who is very professional who can act as a mentor to the many young officers we have,” Clow said. “We need the stability and we feel that Chief Kelly can provide that.”

Also on April 20, some in the community commended Kelly for his work. Resident Tiffany Bowers told selectmen she believed Kelly has done a good job with the department and was starting to gain back the community’s trust.

The department has faced scrutiny in recent years. In 2013, there was a fatal officer-involved shooting, and last October, former police chief John Velleca abruptly resigned after he was accused of assaulting department secretary Jennifer Posteraro.

Velleca was allegedly trying to take Posteraro’s department-issued iPhone, which she later said contained evidence of a brief sexual affair between the two.

Since then, Kelly and other members of the department have been working to change its policies and improve safety measures.

The police department is seeking accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement, an organization created by national law enforcement agencies to set standards for police departments across the nation.

To be accredited, the Weare Police Department has to develop rigorous standards for its officers to follow, and has to demonstrate each year it is living up to those standards.

For his part, Kelly said he will be “very happy to stay on” if residents agree with selectmen.

“The community has high expectations of the police department,” Kelly said. “This move enables the work that has been going on now for the last eight or nine months to continue without interruption.”

Kelly said his role as a part-time chief has worked out well so far, and will continue to do so. The town was unable to provide Kelly’s most recent contract before press time, but as interim chief, he makes $1,500 per week, totaling $78,000 per year.

A new state law requires all municipalities who employ state retirees to report the number of hours and total pay for those employees back to the New Hampshire Retirement System. That data shows about 10 percent of all retirees have returned to public-sector work, a practice known as double dipping.

Advocates argue that towns get highly qualified employees and save money because they don’t have to pay for benefits or pay into the retirement system. The employees get to earn a salary on top of a pension.

Critics of the practice says it prevents other non-retired employees from getting promoted and drives up retirement costs on all other taxpayers.

Keeping within his 32-hour limit has not yet proved a problem, Kelly said. He added he and selectmen have had “frank discussions” about his part-time status.

If a crisis arose requiring him to stay longer, he said there are public safety provisions allowing the town to appeal to the New Hampshire Retirement System for more hours.

“This has worked out very well,” he said. “So far, there have been no issues at all.”

It’s not clear how many hours Kelly has been working in Weare because the town has not been reporting that information back to the Retirement System as required by law, according to Marty Karlon, spokesman for New Hampshire Retirement System. Karlon said the town has been notified of the problem and will correct it.

Kelly’s contract with the town will have to be renewed in three years, which he said will allow officials to measure whether the arrangement is working.

“Having me here in this capacity fulfills the needs of the community today,” Kelly said. “This is not something carved in stone.”

Before this decision, selectmen had signed a contract with consulting firm Municipal Resources Inc. to look for a new chief.

Town officials will hold two public hearings on Kelly’s hiring on Monday and May 18.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen. Jonathan Van Fleet contributed to this report.)


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