Weare police contracts up for debate at deliberative session

Monitor staff
Published: 2/1/2017 8:39:03 PM

The town of Weare is hoping this will be the year voters trust the police department enough to approve a contract.

Voting “yes” on Article 5 would approve a three-year contract, providing a sense of stability crucial in the town’s efforts to improve the department, Weare selectman Thomas Clow said.

Much has been done already since hiring current Weare police Chief Sean Kelly in June 2015, Clow said, such as getting the department certified through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, an independent authority that provides accreditation for departments across the country.

The process usually takes more than three years. But the Weare select board’s meeting minutes say the department was able to obtain certification in nine months.

Some changes have already been made, such as having potential job applicants go through a third-party background check and hiring committee, Clow said. But approving a contract for the department in recent years has been elusive. A proposal for a three-year contract in 2014 failed, and a one-year contract was approved in 2015. Efforts to pass a two-year budget failed last year.

Clow said he felt that the hesitance to approve a long-term contract has stemmed from a series of issues the department has faced in recent years. Former police chief John Velleca resigned in October 2014, just a year after being sworn in, amid claims that he assaulted and had a romantic relationship with his secretary.

Another officer, Kim McSweeney, resigned in December after facing accusations of abusing a burglary suspect during an arrest. Ken Cox, who is accused of abuse in the same case, was demoted from sergeant to patrol officer after a failed sting operation in 2013 left a suspected drug dealer dead; Cox later retired.

Two years ago, three former employees of the police department all sued the town for reasons ranging from harassment to wrongful termination.

Because the town lacks a steady contract, hiring to fill the department has added to the challenge of finding qualified officers, Clow said.

“When you’re in a small town, there isn’t much room for promotion,” Clow said. “So we have to find people who want to be here, and one of the ways we can do that is to show them a stable contract.”

A fully staffed department would include 11 officers plus the chief. Weare currently has nine full-time officers. If approved, police salaries and benefits would increase by $16,627 for the first year, but $2,815 of that would be offset by increasing police officers’ contributions to health insurance premiums from 7 to 10 percent.

Clow said the rest of the town’s employees are contributing 10 percent, but the town has been unable to increase police officers’ contributions because of the lack of a contract. Employees salaries would increase by 3 percent for the first two years and 3.5 percent for the third year after a performance review.

Other topics of interest

The proposed $5.8 million town budget is nearly $300,000 higher than last year’s budget of $5.5 million, according to the town, and is just barely 0.1 percent higher than the default budget.

Notable warrants include a request to replace three of the police department’s patrol vehicles for $107,184, which would be withdrawn from the unreserved fund balance. Clow said the town would purchase the vehicles at about $27,500 per vehicle using the bidding process state police used to purchase their vehicles. About $10,000 will be needed to equip each car with necessary elements like lights, Clow said.

The town is also hoping to purchase a 10-wheel plow truck for $185,596, an article Clow said he felt would generate some discussion. He noted that residents might balk at the price, but said projects like major vehicle replacement only get more expensive the longer they are put off.

The Weare deliberative session will be held at 9 a.m. on Saturday at the Weare Middle School cafeteria.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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