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City reviews police chief residency requirement~ RH October 1, 2015

City reviews police chief residency requirement
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | October 01, 2015
Everyone at a Public Safety Committee meeting Wednesday agreed Rutland’s next police chief should live in the city— but that didn’t prevent an argument about how stringent to make the contract language requiring it.

In the end, the committee voted 4-1 to recommend that the full Board of Aldermen approve a five-year, $110,000 a year contract. Alderman Gary Donahue cast the sole dissenting vote.

The approval is contingent on the candidate chosen by the police chief search committee — Schenectady Police Chief Brian Kilcullen — clearing a background investigation by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“I thought I was going to have (the background investigation report) Tuesday, but I haven’t seen it yet,” said Larry Jensen, chairman of the Police Commission. “It will be in the next couple days — at least that’s what I’m told.”

Indeed, the only debate on Wednesday was over the final sentence of a section requiring the chief to establish and maintain a primary residence in Rutland within nine months.

“The Appointee agrees failure to do either will constitute failure to render efficient service to the City and shall serve as just cause for termination of his appointment, unless the Police Commission, in its sole discretion, waives the requirement,” it read.

Donahue said providing any sort of out would make it impossible to enforce residency requirements for anyone else.

City Attorney Charles Romeo said a police chief can only be fired for just cause, and the clause establishes that cause up front while leaving the commission some flexibility.

“The commission didn’t want to have to fire him if he hadn’t moved within nine months, wanted to be able to work with him to bring him into compliance,” Romeo said.

Hypothetical scenarios were offered from various people at the meeting, including difficulties closing on a house in Rutland, difficulties selling the chief’s current home in New York, unexpected medical situations or, as once happened to a city fire chief, having to relocate due to a house fire.

Jensen said Kilcullen “fully understands” he has to move to the city.

Reached after the meeting and asked why Kilcullen’s predecessor, James Baker, was not required to live in the city, Jensen pointed out that Baker came on at first as an interim chief and that he did a good job integrating himself into the community despite not being a resident.

Asked why subsequent chiefs should be subjected to the requirement, Jensen would only reiterate that the commission wanted the chief to live in the city.

During the meeting, Jensen said to Donahue, “Gary, every time you get into one of these deals and say ‘never,’ something comes back and bites you in the you-know-where. I’m not trying to change (the residency requirement). I’m trying not to paint myself or the commission into a corner. … I have no intention in having the police chief live anywhere but in the city.”

Others on the committee said they were fine with leaving the commission some latitude, but were uncomfortable with language about “waiving” the requirement.

Alderman David Allaire offered alternate language — which was ultimately adopted — instead simply saying it was at the commission’s discretion whether a failure to establish residency was just cause for termination.

Former alderman and county prosecutor Art Crowley said he spoke for the majority of the city in that it was the public’s desire for the chief to live in Rutland, and that he wanted language in the contract that left no out.

“If the chief can’t live with it … then we need another chief,” Crowley said. “I feel that strongly. … if it requires another search, so be it. It’s that important to the city of Rutland.”

Crowley said that if there were an exceptional circumstance like the various hypotheticals offered, city officials would somehow “work it out.”

Board of Aldermen President William Notte said everyone likely agreed the chief should live in the city, but that he also doubted anyone would demand he be fired if he was dislocated by a house fire. He said he saw no need to tie the police commission’s hands.

“There’s no reason a police chief who’s doing an excellent job can’t move outside of the city for a month,” he said. “That’s the sort of absolutism that’s only going to cause a headache. … Let’s trust the Police Commission to do their jobs.”

Alderman Christopher Ettori said the real desire is that the chief be “a member of the community” and asked if there was a way of better reflecting that in the language of the contract.

Romeo replied that the purpose of a contract is to cover terms of employment and specific factors giving cause for termination. A clause like “Thou shalt shop at the farmers market every Saturday,” he said, would not “pass legal muster for just-cause dismissal.”

gordon.dritschilo @rutlandherald.com

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