COHASSET — Selectmen will decide on Tuesday whether to censure or exonerate the acting town manager, who was accused by the police chief of interfering with an internal police investigation.
The board came close to clearing Acting Town Manager Michael Milanoski at its June 19 meeting — voting 3-2 to express support for him, but withhold final judgment until the private investigator hired by the town to review the case interviewed Police Chief Mark DeLuca.
Several members of the audience at the crowded meeting — including former Cohasset police chief James Hussey — urged the board to wait until DeLuca could give his side of the story.
The investigator, Richard A. Sjoberg of Boston, also is looking into allegations filed by the Cohasset police union against the chief — who was placed on paid administrative leave by Milanoski in May.
“We have serious allegations against both the town manager and the police chief, and we are moving forward as expeditiously as we can to have a very fair and open process,” selectmen chairman Paul Carlson said after the meeting.
“We certainly want this to be over as soon as possible,” he said. “We’re all spending time on this, rather than the important issues of running the town.”
The complaint against Milanoski stems from a May 19 incident, the town election day, when Cohasset police Sergeant Jeffrey Treanor parked a police Humvee at Cohasset Common with a banner supporting a “24/7” police station. Keeping the station open was a campaign issue.
Milanoski saw the banner and asked DeLuca to have it removed, triggering an internal police investigation. DeLuca asserts that Milanoski interfered with that investigation.
At their June 19 meeting, selectmen first voted 4 to 1 to exonerate Milanoski of the chief’s charges against him — but then realized the motion hadn’t been seconded. The board instead approved an “expression of support” and a week’s delay. In the final vote, Martha Gjesteby said she voted against expressing support until the investigation was complete, and Leland Jenkins voted against the delay.
“This board has been in and out of turmoil,” Selectman Frederick Koed said during the meeting. “Obviously, there are some factions of the community who are very concerned that the chief didn’t have the opportunity [to talk to the investigator]. We would all rest more comfortably if we waited.”
“I’m sure the conclusion will be the same, and I know it makes Mike’s life more uncomfortable and our lives more uncomfortable,” Selectwoman Diane Kennedy said during discussion of the delay. “But I think it’s the right thing to do. We want a full investigation.”
Sjoberg said he could not comment on the probe.
Hussey, who was chief from 2004 to 2009, said he decided to warn selectmen to conduct a “thorough and independent” investigation after reading about the controversy in the newspaper. Hussey, who is currently a captain in the Boston Police Department in charge of the Brighton district, said he is concerned both because he knows DeLuca personally and because it reminds him of an earlier Cohasset controversy involving a town investigation.
“I came [to Cohasset] in the middle of a mess because an investigation was done by people who didn’t know what they were doing,” Hussey told selectmen. “You want to do it again?”
In that instance, then town manager Mark Haddad placed two officers on paid administrative leave for several months while they were investigated for various allegations. Hussey said the investigation was sloppy and there was no evidence supporting the charges, so he brought the men back to work.
The officers sued and the town ended up paying them to settle, Hussey said. One of the officers, William Quigley, is now deputy chief and confirmed that the town settled with the condition that the amount not be made public.
Hussey, who said that at one point in his career he headed the Boston Police internal affairs section, criticized the current Cohasset investigation for failing to interview DeLuca before presenting a report. “You have to talk to someone and flesh out what happened” and not rely on written material, Hussey said.
Hussey also disputed the report’s interpretation of when the internal investigation began, a key factor in determining whether Milanoski interfered. Hussey said it started when Milanoski first called the chief to complain about the banner; the report said it began two days later when the chief ordered his lieutenant to “initiate” an official review.
Carlson defended the investigation and investigator.
“Maybe Chief Hussey didn’t know who this fellow was, but he certainly comes highly recommended,” Carlson said.
The investigator’s report provides a chronology of the controversy and includes the previously undisclosed information that, during a heated discussion of the internal investigation, DeLuca allegedly slapped Quigley “hard across the gut.”
Milanoski was appointed after selectmen fired Michael Coughlin from the town manager’s post in March, after less than a year on the job. Milanoski’s contract expires June 30, 2013, Carlson said.
“I’m looking to continue making positive progress, and I and board will determine whether we want to continue the relationship,” Milanoski said.
DeLuca could not be reached for comment.