Sergeants’ lack of interest in the job of Holbrook police chief may mean a patrol officer will get the job, but the Board of Selectmen is considering sponsoring a ballot question to remove the chief’s position from civil service, Town Administrator William Phelan said.
Such a move would allow a broader search, giving the community more choices for chief, but at the same time making the job more subject to political influence.
In an interview, Phelan said the job was first placed into the civil service system around 1931, and then removed within a few years, only to be returned to the system around 1981.
William Marble, police chief for about five years, returned to the rank of sergeant voluntarily on Monday after he and the Board of Selectmen failed to reach agreement on a new contract.
Although sergeant is the highest rank below chief in the 20-member department, none of the three other sergeants have applied for the job, Marble said in an interview Monday. He said three patrol officers have applied, but he declined to name them.
Marble said he could make up to $40,000 more as a sergeant than as chief, because sergeants have more opportunities to earn overtime and detail pay. The chief can work extra hours, but only if other officers decline the work, he said.
Compensation was the main sticking point in the chief’s contract, according to Marble and Timothy Gordon, chairman of the selectmen.
Asked whether the disparity in pay would deter sergeants from applying, Gordon said, “Well, we’ll see.” He said he thinks the situation is not unusual in police departments.
Marble said his contract pay last year was $119,000, which he characterized as low compared with chiefs of similar-sized departments south of Boston.
With no deputy chiefs, captains, or lieutenants in the department, the chief rarely gets a break, Marble said. He said he talked the decision over with his family, and he would rather relinquish the job than continue without a bump in salary.
“As the chief, I’m on duty 24/7,” he said.
According to Marble and Phelan, the chief made $125,000 in Holbrook last year with overtime and details. Speaking from memory, Phelan said Marble also made approximately $6,000 for details at Patriots games. Area chiefs often earn extra money by working Patriots details, Phelan said.
The selectmen appointed a temporary leader for the department Feb. 6 on what Phelan said was an “emergency” basis for 30 days. They chose Paul Porter, a retired Randolph police chief, giving him the civilian title of commissioner.
The selectmen anticipate naming him interim head of the department once they receive permission from the state Human Resources Division, Phelan said.
‘You ask a good question — what are we looking for. I think that’s a conversation the board should have.’
Porter cannot serve as permanent chief because he has reached the mandatory police retirement age of 65, according to Phelan.
Marble questioned in an interview why Porter’s appointment could be classified as an “emergency,” saying the board knew for the last seven months that Marble was planning to return to sergeant if the salary issue was not resolved.
His tenure as chief started on Jan. 8, 2009, when he received a surprise late-night telephone call congratulating him on being named interim chief, he said. The then-chief had resigned unexpectedly at a selectmen’s meeting, Marble said.
In 2010, he became permanent chief with a three-year contract. It expired a year ago, he said.
He and the selectmen did not begin negotiating a new contract until June, four months after the contract expired, he said.
They could not reach a long-term agreement, so they settled on a one-year contract, retroactive to February 2013, with the stipulation that if they could not resolve the financial matter, Marble could return to sergeant, he said. This month, the contract ended, with no meeting of the minds.
“I basically said, ‘Here’s my proposal, and it’s a yes or a no,’ and the selectmen said they couldn’t afford it,” Marble said.
Gordon said the disagreement was “primarily financial.”
“I think it’s safe to say that we couldn’t come to a financial agreement,” he said.
Marble said when he took the job — and he was the only person to take the chief’s exam at the time, he said — he believed that the town was getting a good deal, and that the salary would be increased. Some area chiefs of similar-sized departments make almost $150,000, he said, citing West Bridgewater as an example.
Marble, who grew up in Holbrook, said that although he is surprised and disappointed, “there’s no ill will” toward the selectmen.
He now fills the sergeant’s position last held by Mark Shanly, who retired in January.
Porter, speaking to the Board of Selectmen when they appointed him temporary commissioner, said he plans to meet with the Holbrook officers, listen to their ideas and concerns, and work to enhance what Holbrook already does in its relationships with other departments and agencies.
Gordon said he hopes Porter can help Holbrook through the process of selecting a new chief.
Asked what the selectmen are looking for in a chief, Gordon said, “You ask a good question — what are we looking for. I think that’s a conversation the board should have.”Jennette Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.