Photo: Belmont Police Department’s Todd Benedetti speaking before the Belmont Board of Selectmen
Representatives from the Belmont Police Department’s rank and file and their superiors were speaking from the same hymnal at Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, asking the board to limit its search for a new chief from within the force.
With several officers with extensive professional development and advanced degrees in criminal justice, “I honestly don’t believe you’ll find any finer leaders then what we have in this department,” said Belmont Police Sgt. Ben Mailhut representing the department’s Superior Officers Association
At the end of the meeting, the board authorized the writing of a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking a consultant to assist the town in finding a replacement for Chief Richard McLaughlin who is retiring on Dec. 31, 2019.
In a March 14 memo to the Selectmen, Belmont’s Human Resources Director Jessica Porter wrote that while there are arguments to keep the search inside the department – cost, consistency of departmental operations and morale – including external candidates will allow for a greater pool of professional applicants. She reminded the board it has had success selecting from outside including the appointment of the Town Administrator, the Belmont Light General Manager and Town Accountant.
“There’s pluses and minuses [when including an external search]. On the one hand, you don’t want to discourage people who are internal from moving up and on the other hand you really don’t know what’s out there until you start looking and we’ve made several hires from the outside,” said Selectmen Chair Adam Dash.
In an attempt for a compromise, Selectman Mark Paolillo put forth a two-step approach in which internal applicants would be vetted and only if no one meets the criteria for the position, only then would outside candidates be brought forward.
Belmont Police personnel made it clear their preference where the next chief should come from. Belmont Police Department’s Todd Benedetti said officers like himself, supervisors and the public “are watching this meeting and are very concerned with the possibility that the town spending thousands of dollars on an outside search when there are viable candidates inside the department.”
“Why not interview these candidates first then go to the outside if it is necessary,” said Benedetti, noting that closeby communities such as Watertown, Lexington, Waltham and Arlington are staying inside the department as it will ease the transition and keep morale high. With the renovation of police headquarters soon to be underway, “this is not the time” for an outside hire “to come in and get used to the department.”
“Our officers believe in our internal candidates and believe it will allow in an easy transition through these tough times,” he said.
Porter presented a four-part recruitment process to the board:
- Hiring a consultant/search firm to assist the town.
- Whether or not the consultant conducts an assessment center; ie mock exercises involving real-life situations which the candidates would resolve a problem or
- Create a nine-person screening committee consisting of Mark Paolillo, who is leaving the selectmen in April, Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan, a representative from the schools such as a principal, a president or member of a PTO, two residents, someone representing the Council on Aging, and a current police chief from a neighboring town.
Under the plan’s timeline, the issuance of the RFP will occur in July, and the screening committee appointed in mid-September. Finalists for the position will come before the selectmen in November and a final vote among the candidates in mid-November.
If all goes to plan, Belmont’s next police chief’s first day will be Jan. 6, 2020.