Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vote to hire ICMA due to PDs "no confidence" vote

Tonight, the full Council met in conjunction with the Personnel Committee. The primary discussion was related to this resolution to hire ICMA as a fact-finder related to the October 2 Police Union vote of 'no confidence' in the Chief.

I believe I was the first person to ask questions. My goal was to ascertain the role played by the Town Manager's Office in this mess. After all, neither the Union nor the Chief report to the Council... but the TM does. Most of my questions were related to the below chronology of events that I requested to include actions taken and principals involved. I figure we need to know the history, if we are to move into the future in a responsible manner.

Here's the TMs chronology of events:

In response to a request from Councilman Tim White regarding the events leading up to the Police Union’s vote of no confidence, I am providing the following chronology from the date I first was informed about the Union’s concerns to the date of the vote.

I met with various members of the Police Union Executive Board (E Board) on September 28, 2008, and in 2009 on February 19, May 21, June 10, June 22, and July 23.

The meeting in September 2008 was the first time the Union expressed their concerns about the Chief’s management style. Specifically, they spoke about communication, delegation of authority, micromanagement, recognition of achievement, assignment of officers to specialties (Youth, Community Affairs, and Narcotics Officers), training and equipment needs.

I conveyed these concerns to the Chief along with recommendations for addressing them. Throughout the ensuing months, I checked on these issues at regular meetings, and through telephone discussions and emails with the Chief. He appeared to be sensitive to these issues and attempting to address them, and in the absence of feedback to the contrary, appeared to be making progress.

Lou Zullo and I met with the E Board on February 19, 2009, and it appeared that while I thought that progress was being made in addressing the Union’s concerns, the Union felt that little change had in fact occurred, and when changes did occur, they were not sustained.

Realizing that a more thorough process was needed, Lou Zullo and I began meeting with the Chief, Command Staff (Deputy Chief and two Captains) to formulate a more effective means of addressing concerns but also enlisting the assistance of his Command staff to more closely monitor the Chief’s behavior and provide feedback. To this end, the six of us met about every two weeks for about two months.

In response to the continuing concerns raised a number of changes were instituted:

1. A newsletter was developed by the Chief and distributed periodically which provided the employees with a variety of information about department activities, plans, etc. in an effort to improve communication.

2. At Police Department staff meetings consisting of the Chief, the Command staff and two lieutenants (generally held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday), an additional lower or non-ranking staff member was invited to participate to offer suggestions, ideas on department matters and to observe meetings to better understand policy making process and department oversight.

3. The Chief was directed to delegate much of the day-to-day operations to Deputy Chief Popovich as soon as possible, in an effort to lessen tension and limit micromanagement.

4. The assignment to specialties was being addressed and assignments were to be initiated as soon as practicable.

5. The training room was upgraded.

6. Kitchen improvements were made along with other general building improvements (i.e. painting, new furniture, etc.).

7. A schedule of regular Union Executive Board meetings was established to include the Command staff.

8. Periodic meetings were established between the Chief and Union President.

9. More frequent letters of commendation were being issued by the Chief.

10. The Sergeants’ exam was moving forward.

11. Increased training opportunities were planned.

On May 21, 2009 Lou Zullo and I met with the E Board of the Union to get feedback on changes that were implemented. They acknowledged changes that were made but felt that our efforts only resulted in short-term improvement and not sustained improvement. The Union indicated that after I would meet with the Chief, there would be a change in his behavior, but it would not continue for an extended period. At this meeting, the E Board provided me with a written document detailing the issues that had been previously discussed. This document formed the basis for the discussion on this issue that I had with the Town Council in Executive Session at the July Council meeting.

Up until this time the Chief had not participated in these meetings, and I indicated to the E Board that there needed to be a direct discussion/confrontation with us and the Chief. Union members resisted this recommendation as they claimed a fear of retaliation if they directly criticized or confronted the Chief. I explained that these meetings would be the only way I could expect to confront issues and possibly resolve them, and that we needed to have a direct dialogue among all of us. I attempted to assure them that my presence would eliminate any potential for retaliation by the Chief. The Union was unwilling to participate in such a meeting.

We met again with the E Board on June 10, 2009 and June 22, 2009, and much of what was stated in the May 21, 2009 meeting was reiterated. Since the Union was still unwilling to have the Chief participate in these meetings, I made it clear that I could not successfully achieve a change unless the E Board allowed the Chief to join us in these meetings. The Chief needed to hear the concerns, with specific illustrations, from those affected. It would be the only way to try to get to the root cause of the problem. I realized that there would be no opportunity for any positive change to happen unless the Chief participated in these meetings. With some reluctance, some of the members agreed to meet with the Chief, along with Lou Zullo and myself.

The E Board did indicate at either the May or June meeting that they would not pursue a vote of no confidence in the Chief. Also, on July 1, 2009 the Union President stopped by my office and left a message that things were getting better with the Chief.

On July 23, 2009 Lou Zullo and I met with members of the E Board and the Chief and his Command staff. We discussed communications and indicated that the Union needed to have one spokesperson, as a direct line, since there were multiple people communicating for the Union which was creating confusion, and in some cases misunderstandings. The testing procedure for the upcoming Sergeants’ exam was discussed extensively, revolving around the second part of the test which would be conducted by an assessment center, rather than using the traditional panel approach. Staff evaluations, supervisors and department meetings were also discussed, especially as a key means of improving communication. The meeting went well, as Deputy Chief Popovich took the lead on some of the policy issues. While we did see some progress in getting everyone together and discussing some important issues, we did not get to the critical issues that were discussed with the E Board relative to the Chief’s style of management. Nonetheless, the meeting was positive and laid the foundation for future meetings that could be more substantive. A subsequent meeting was scheduled in an effort to keep us all communicating.

Throughout this time period (February through September) there were about nine contract negotiation sessions as well as a few grievance hearings. The negotiating sessions were proceeding in a civil manner, but directed at curtailing some of the Chief’s discretion. Also, some grievance hearings were held, and while two were going to arbitration (and the Town has prevailed on one and awaiting the outcome on the second one) 3 others were settled internally.

During this time period I formally met with a few of the officers and informally questioned others about the impact on any Police Department changes. Additionally, I met with members of the Command staff to pose the same inquiry. My purpose for these inquiries was to get feedback to adequately evaluate what impact our efforts (frequent meetings, policy changes, reporting modifications, reassignments, increased communication, facility improvements, increased training, officer inclusion in meetings, etc.) were having on the state of the Police Department.

Little substantive feedback was provided, especially among the Command staff. The Police Department is a paramilitary operation with a strong adherence to and respect for the chain of command. This made it almost impossible to get specific, clear information on the state of the Department and the effect of any changes we had attempted to implement. Consequently, it underscored the importance of continuing to have regular meetings with the Chief and the Union.

With this in mind, a meeting was scheduled with the Chief, Deputy Chief and Union leadership for September 28, 2009, and an E Board meeting with the Chief, Command staff and Lou Zullo and I for October 1, 2009. I thought both meetings would be useful in building on our meeting of July 23. Unfortunately, the Union cancelled both of these meetings and proceeded to conduct the vote soon after.

I had a number of questions / comments. But it's getting late. Maybe I'll get into that tomorrow.

The vote on the resolution passed 7-1. I opposed spending the money without holding staff accountable. And Jimmy Sima was absent in relation to family concerns. The MRJs Jesse Buchanan has already reported on the meeting. Jesse captured my sentiments well:

White said he opposed the motion in part because he believes that the town personnel director, Louis Zullo, could mediate or resolve the conflict.

"If staffing changes need to happen, then they need to happen," White said.

I mean... when you get paid six figures and mediation is in your job description... I think this issue should have been handled a long time ago. But I'd agree to giving the TM another three months. And if it can't be handled impartially by staff... then yeah... let's get new staff. Whether the TM chooses to find a new Personnel Director or the Council chooses to find a new TM... staff should be able to handle this... and both Councilman Ecke and Council Chair Slocum agreed with me that staff should be able to handle this.

For me the most amusing part of the discussion was when Councilman David Schrumm said something to the effect of "This is not a consultant. This is a fact finder." That got Councilman Mike Ecke fired up and saying something like "In my business, this is the very definition of a 'consultant.'" Call ICMA what you will. I think everyone can come to their own conclusion.

I think the best part about the meeting for me though was that I didn't get berated by staff at all. It was a really pleasant change from being repeatedly dressed down by staff for the past four years. For that, I thank both Personnel Chairman Ruocco and the voters!

Last, but not least, all principals (TM, Union, Chief) involved were amenable to this course of action.

I'm sure I'll post more this weekend.

Tim White


Anonymous said...

The message is clear. The town manager and personnel director is incompetent to handle the situation. They procrastinated for a year and accomplished nothing. The investigation should start at the top; not with the Police Chief and the Police Union. The new council is starting off in the wrong direction; they have refused to do the right thing and reorganize management. The voters spoke and the council is not listening.

Anonymous said...

10:14, comeon, give the new council some time, plus they have to follow proper procedures.

mcjk said...

I am struggling with who is right or wrong and who did what. There is a lot of information that needs to be filled in. However one thing that should be made clear is that the $5,000 spent will only get you a high level view of the issues (which the TC probably already knows) as well as how much it is going to really cost TO get this resolved. READ THE STATEMENT OF WORK IN ONE OF TIM'S PREVIOUS POSTS.

Anonymous said...

Why is Mr Ecke in the discussions? Is this a conflict?

Anonymous said...

Why is Mr Ecke in the discussions? Is this a conflict?

It certainly is a conflict. Don't let this happen. All he has to offer is biased opinions. It is a disservice to the community.

Anonymous said...

This is a mess. The town manager and personnel manager certainly have their hands full with the police union. No one should lose sight of the fact that it is a labor union complaining.

No one should lose sight of the ineffective police department management either. And of course no one should lose sight of the ineffective town government management either.

Ah a perfect storm of nasty unhappy people and inept incompetent leaders. The TC has maybe 90 days to get this mess under control.

How would the board of directors at some big publicly traded corporation handle this? Would they do what was right and just replace each and every whiner from the TM down to the lowly patrol officers? Would they just ignore it and sell it all off to someone who was dumb enough to buy it? Would they continue to ignore reality?

Just how will this all look by about April 1st?

Anonymous said...


What would big business do? I think they would be complelled to do the same thing. There are employment contracts, etc. May I remind you of the whistle blowers, the SEC and Bernie Madoff and countless other examples of big business, any business for that matter not getting it right all the time.

There is due process in a court room and there must be due process in this matter too.

Firing everybody is no answer either. How do you handle a family matter? Shoot to kill and ask the serious questions at the inquest held later? You probably want to get your facts straight then spank the little brat, withold an allowance, etc.

Give the town council a chance to see the facts so informed conclusions and decisions can be made.

Anonymous said...

The fact of the matter is that morale is terrible in most departments in Town. How does that happen? I think it is a culture formed as a result of the leadership. No one speaks out for fear of retaliation. Retaliation is real and is how the leadership reacts.

Anonymous said...

This is done in business many times. The $5000 is peanuts compared to the costs that the wrongful firing of people on both sides of this complaint/issue will cost. Forget the politics of who used more consultants etc. It's a problem that started long ago and needs some time to arrive at the proper resolution. Let's take a deep breath and give both sides the benefit of stating their case. I believe that there will be a solution without much damage to either side after all the problems are not insurmountable
as compared to Madison(which has a police commission) and other towns.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Why is Mr Ecke in the discussions? Is this a conflict?

December 11, 2009 1:49 PM

Didn't we hear the town attorney describe "conflict of interest" as having a personal or financial interest in a situation? Ecke definitely has a personal interest in the police issue and that all too talked about turf project.
He should recuse himself from discussions or votes on both topics.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Ecke definitely has a conflict of interest and ethics violation. The Town Attorney has given opinions from the book and has neglected; morally correct opinions. Ecke’s brother is on the Cheshire Police Force and is most active supporting and promoting the Artificial Turf. The council has probably missed the opportunity to replace the town attorney. I wish we had John Knott or his Son back.

Anonymous said...

A Republican council trying to fix issues being raised by a typical Connecticut municipal employees labor union seems to be a pretty wild thought. Here in this state with its long standing super majority Democrats who always suck up to each and every municipal employee labor union by granting every request, demand, or just wish, how long will it be before Cheshire's very own local police union does in the new council majority?

Looking at the narrative provided by the TM it doesn't look good for the new majority along with it side-kick leftover from the days of the last Democratic majority. It's nice to have notes but it is nicer to have real results after the amount of time that was invested by town management.

Anonymous said...

They have 30 days to replace the TA if they elect to do so. Give them some time with this and the police situation. They only had "one" meeting.

Anonymous said...

why are you afraid of a police commission they did their job in madison they got rid of all the corrupt officials including cops. a police works, if people want it to work. nothing works if you do not want it to. you don't want a police commission because you are afraid people will come forward and issues will be brought to light lets face it.

Anonymous said...

3:26 - yes, and it all went on right under their noses for quite a while before anything was done about it. Get over your quest for a Cheshire Police Commission. They are an anachronism. A group of citizens with no knowledge of law enforcement or criminal justice is going to approve a policy, for instance, of how the SWAT team deals with an active shooter incident? Rediculous! Citizen boards got us the town pool - what more do you need to know?

Tim White said...

it all went on right under their noses for quite a while before anything was done about it.

Staff knew about the problems, but knowingly ignored them.

Anonymous said...

9:55 you seem to be lacking a basic understanding of how America governs. At some point everything in government seems to report to elected officials who even today are just elected from the citizenship of our towns, counties, and states.

This being reality since about the 1776 just what is so wrong about a group of citizens with no knowledge of law enforcement or criminal justice? Like they say, it isn't really rocket science anyway.

If police expect us to respect them when they are playing routine traffic stop etc then certainly there is no real reason a group of elected adult citizens, answerable to the overall electorate, shouldn't be allowed to oversee a police department as a duly seated official police commission. After all, the reality is the police serve the electorate. It isn't the other way around, at least in the America I came from.

Presently this town is stuck with a group of unhappy workers directed by an outside nation labor union with very selfish self interests, a bunch of command officers kind of out of touch but grateful for all the perks their rank bestows, and some local highly paid town bureaucrats isolated and insulated in offices at town hall.

The national union, the isolated professional line officers, and the highly paid town bureaucrats have truly screwed it up and shafted town residents in the process. Anyone believing that only those specialists should be involved in keeping the local PD operating on the straight and narrow truly just doesn't get it.

A Cheshire Police Commission is long overdue.

Anonymous said...

If the commission is "long over due", why did we get rid of the one we had?

The only people that should be telling police how to do their jobs are other police officers. Untrained civilians do not have the attitude, knowlage, or understanding to direct police operations.

Stop asking for the commission Cindy

Anonymous said...

Whoever it is who keeps calling for a police commission, and often posts vitriolic comments about the police, seems to have a personal problem with police officers … like she/he has had run-ins with the law.

In my 60+ years, I’ve never been arrested or had a run-in with the law. The one time I was stopped for a traffic offense, the officer was nothing but polite. I was polite too, so he let me off with a warning.

There is no clamor by the voters for a police commission. If you don’t want problems with the police, just stay out of trouble.

Anonymous said...

What was the grievance that the town won all about?

What is going on with the union and the lack of a contract? What are they looking for?

Anonymous said...

1003 often times police in CT have shown by the actions of a few that in general all police departments, at least in this state, seem to need more, not less oversight. Just read the regional state newspapers regularly and collect the bad cop articles along with the good cop articles

In just the past week one who lives in Naugatuck was arrested for extorting a Wallingford resident. Another in Milford got fired because he was video'd by a fellow officer doing about 100 mph on a routine drive through town and sadly killing 2 town residents.

Currently the union, the rank and file, their bosses and the bosses bosses seem to be performing under the influence of a complete lack of accountability at the very least. Possibly they are collectively all dead from the neck up too based on their collective childish behavior. And if you go back a bit Cheshire police have had a bunch of other problems which show up in the news too.

So, what should citizens being doing? Let the status quo take care of what isn't always working or should a police commission be formed to provide citizen oversight of an important public service which over time seems to have degraded? Go ahead and make your choice and if you believe that government in all its forms is above the people and the people shouldn't have the last say in what government does one day you'll wake up with no more freedoms.