Milton Chief of Police Richard Wells makes public statement at Feb. 23 Board of Selectmen meeting

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Chief of Police Richard Wells made the following statement at the February 23, 2016 Board of Selectmen meeting in Milton:

I want to thank the Board of Selectman for allowing me the opportunity to appear tonight and respond publicly to the vote taken last week NOT to renew my contract as Chief of Police.

As most of you know, I prefer to speak from the heart without notes, but tonight I have noted my comments in writing so that I may be quoted exactly.

Unlike the formal statement from the Board that was carefully drafted in advance of last week’s meeting by Town Counsel, the comments I have outlined are mine alone and based on the facts of this matter.

The temptation to respond in anger would be very easy.  This response is instead, based upon three key elements; leadership, community and loyalty.

This has been a difficult and emotional situation for me, my family and the Town as a whole. For as long as I can remember, I have loved this community and fought as hard as possible to protect it, foster it and build the partnerships each of you would expect for the citizens of Milton.

Leadership

No person was more nervous than I was to assume the role of Police Chief back in 2007. Fortunately, I have been privileged to have been exposed to so many tremendous leaders in my life. People like former Town Administrator Jon Cronin who began meeting with me when I first sought to became a police officer at a very young age. Leaders who were brilliant and dedicated community servants such as former Attorney General Bob Quinn, Curry President Ken Quigley, Ambassador Ray Flynn, Monsignor Bill Francis, longtime chaplain to the Boston Police and retired Boston Police Supt-in-Chief Bob Faherty.

As a new chief, it was people like these as well as many of the supervisors I served under as a young officer that helped me to understand the true concept of the word, leadership.

We live in a time that mandates our leaders to do just that, lead. This includes both elected and appointed leaders. The citizens of this wonderful community deserve no less.

I once heard a decorated and highly respected Army General, Eric Shinseki, in an address at the United States Military Academy state, “to be a true leader is to love.” His statement did not refer to love in a romantic sense. What he meant, was you have to love the men and women you lead. You need to love what they do each and every day, often under extraordinary circumstances and with little recognition. Leadership requires commonsense, an ability to communicate, compassion and humanity. These traits are so critical to the citizens you serve and the people of Milton who place such great trust in their police department. This philosophic understanding of leadership also applies to those who do not agree with me personally.

Understanding my deep conviction and devotion to Milton, this Board, our Town Administrator and everyone who live and work here, is what makes this so hard to struggle against a body of government that I have cherished for so long.

The one essential truth that caused this entire ordeal comes down to a single statement made to me last August during a face to face meeting with the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen and the Town Administrator.

This meeting was arranged by Mr Hurley following a request I made in June to extend my contract for two years until July of 2018. While the Town has carefully crafted this entire contract negotiation  to appear as if  the entire stumbling block centers on the “Senior Management Program,” the actual truth and the sole intention of this Board since 2014 is found in the answer to the first  question I asked Mr Hurley that day .  My question was simple. If I refused any contractual SMP language; could I extend my contract for two more years? The answer was direct and without any hesitation, “You Have Zero Votes on this Board for such a renewal  , we have decided to take the Milton Police Department in another direction.” Despite my repeated requests, I was given no reason for why the Board chose not to renew my contract as chief . My response to this statement of no Board support for my continuation as Chief , was that I understand that I work for the Board of Selectman and absent any reason at all for this incomprehensible decision ; I asked the second most important question of this subject matter. How are you going to explain this decision to the citizens of Milton? The response was just as direct. “We do not have to explain anything to the citizens.”

For anyone who may find this response untruthful, you have to look no further than two important factors about this case. The first involves the manner in which my retirement was announced to the community with no public warning or indication. It took place during a public meeting, not as an agenda item, but sadly as a well planned statement. It was followed up with formal written releases the next morning to multiple media agencies. I had zero opportunity to tell my family, with my wife reading it on Facebook at 4:00 am and my 11 year old daughter finding out when she arrived at school the next day.

The second indicator which supports the fact that this move was designed long ago is found in the massive public outcry that has taken place since this retirement was first announced back in November.

It is very clear now that any requests for negotiations were a pretext. This non renewal decision was a political one and had nothing to do with finances.

While I never wanted anything like this, the fact remains that nearly 400 residents have attended weekly Board meetings, created written petitions, flooded social media with concerns and questions regarding this action by the Board beginning back on November 23rd. Dozens of leaders representing every corner of Milton and nearly every body of government have spoken passionately and eloquently. The sole response by this Board to the people that have elected you was a prepared legal response that was written before the contract negotiation deadline had passed. When the final person finished speaking at Citizen Speak , a motion to not renew was made , it was voted upon and released to the press immediately. How do you do this to your community? How do you enact such a devastating decision without ever articulating a single reason why you want to fire the police chief?

Community

If there is one lesson that I hope all of you take from this action is the importance of the word “community.” While each of you took the step to seek and win this esteemed office, we must always remember the importance of partnership with the citizens of this Town.

The past few months have illustrated a widespread belief that the Board of Selectmen is “apart from this community and NOT a part of it.” I accept the vote of the Board, but this process and the callousness towards so many of the citizens of this community is one that I hope none of us ever witness again.

I need to set the record straight around the “Senior Management Plan.” The BOS and Town Counsel have embraced their interpretation of this concept in a manner that would have you believe it is as solid as the United States Constitution. They have portrayed my apprehension about this contract language  in a negative and selfish light, one that could even infer greed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who has met me, worked with me, even those that disagree with me understand that I am a man who leads with communication NOT with litigation. I have been blessed in life, a life that I almost lost as a result of a traumatic brain injury almost 30 years ago.  Whenever possible, I choose selflessness vs. selfishness and humanity as opposed to hostility. Even the President of the Police Patrolman’s Association knows very well that whether he is sitting face to face in my office, or speaking to me on the phone at midnight, that the well being and safety of our officers and citizens is always ‘first and foremost“ in every discussion. While we may not always agree on a topic, for nine years in a multitude of situations, some which truly threatened the quality of human life, these virtues remained at the forefront.

Here are the facts:

So what is Senior Management? In simple terms SMP is not a raise. The Town has created and offered it to senior managers as a way to increase their benefit in their senior years. Contrary to the statements of some members of this Board, there is NOTHING in SMP that requires an officer to retire. Massachusetts law has set that age for all police officers at 65.

What SMP intends to do is allow an employee to “sell back” ones accrued benefit.  Here, it is sick time, for an additional “pensionable” pay bump during their final three years. SMP is NOT a raise; it is an exchange of benefits.

So why would a thirty two year employee who allegedly can retire at his 80% place himself in such a public and tenable position. The truth is one that I have been concerned with and argued SMP language since 2013. SMP is clearly a provision that has the ability to seriously harm an employee.  In this case, the Town has demonstrated an action that will hurt me for years. IF I had signed this contract, I would stand to lose over $16,000 of my earned pension benefits.  The details outlining the reasons not to engage in such a program date as far back as 1981 in a Massachusetts SJC case between the City of Boston Teachers Association and the Boston Retirement Board. The provisions that the Town purports to be valid were also addressed very specifically in the Pension Reform Act of 2009.

How many police chiefs in the Commonwealth have this demanded contract provision? One, myself.

The Senior Management Plan is a provision that I NEVER asked for. There is no legal guidance that proves that benefits are guaranteed as intended. If one were to conduct a forensic investigation of this entire case, there is not a scintilla of evidence that I ever requested the SMP provision or made mention of retirement until a private meeting with the Board Chair and the Town Administrator back in November.  It was at this meeting, I told them privately that I would like to retire on August 31st of 2017. This date being the same day as my father when he retired as Police Chief

in 1992. Even that personal and private detail has been released in your response with the retirement date rolled back to August 17th, taking away any chance of granting this one final symbolic request.

My concerns relative to the provisions of SMP date back to 2013. Each time that I have made reference to the alleged benefits relative to the pension benefit, the response has been that : Milton Town Labor Counsel states it is solid. Finally, after two years of arguing and pushing me to the wall, the Town finally “waves the white flag” in a phone call from the Board Chair on the evening November 20th of 2015, Mr. Hurley apologized for not knowing the true facts ( i.e that these benefits were not , in fact pensionable )  and stated, “He could not impose such a negative impact upon me financially for the rest of my life.”  I made the mistake of believing that this was a plan to renegotiate the contract language to right this admitted wrong.

I note that Senior Management language is not found in the contract of the Town Administrator nor the Town Administrator prior to her. As I have noted publicly in many forums, this was not about me receiving any further money; rather it was about fairness.

As the BOS recited their own biased timeline regarding contract negotiations, I felt that the citizens of Milton deserve the actual facts .The following bullets are a quick chronological dateline of the actual SMP discussions as it relates to my employment from 2013 until the vote of last Tuesday February 16th 2016.

2013

At this time after over six years as Chief, my salary was among the lowest in Norfolk County. After several attempts by the Town Administrator to give me a onetime bump to bring me in range with Chiefs in Weymouth, Canton and Stoughton, but still thousand below many others, is becomes clear that the effort to give me a direct raise in pay  is likely futile. As final effort to increase my pay, it is suggested By the Town Administrator that we use the SMP to elevate my pay. It was only with deep reluctance and the assurances of the Town that we would work together to address the SMP language I have been concerned with in 2014 that I move forward with an agreement.

2014

My contract expired on 6/30/14. Negotiations with the Town included offers to come out of SMP and requests to amend the language similar to what other communities had done after 2009 when it became clear that SMP had a lot of legal challenges and issues. There was NEVER any talk of my retirement.

The Town was offering a one year extension with “no change to SMP.” I refused several times to agree. It was only after a personal visit from Selectman Keohane who implored me that if I did not sign, Selectmen Hurley and Conlon would vote 2-1 NOT to renew my contract as of 7/1/15. After several continued discussions with the Town Administrator, she finally convinced me to sign to prevent my removal with the assurance that we would address the language in 2015.

2015

July – at this time I made my first attempt to negotiate a new two year extension. I clearly outlined my concerns regarding SMP. I specifically stated that I would work up to three years if necessary, with a Zero, zero and zero increase in all three years to meet the requirements of the 10% cut.

August – I first learn from the Town Administrator that the BOS will not offer any extension.

Sept/Oct – I am summoned to the first face to face meeting between the Chairman and the Town Administrator. At these meetings, the comments “zero votes” and the plan to move in a different direction is made. No negotiation of any type is offered. Once again, SMP concerns are strongly detailed.

Oct 8th – I am requested to meet again with the Chair Mr. Hurley. This meeting takes place at Bruegger’s in East Milton. The offer remains the same, to retire. Before leaving, Mr. Hurley asks to let him speak with the other two members about the possibility of some type extension.

Nov. 17th, 9:30 am. I receive a conference call from the Chair and the Town Administrator. I am advised that no extensions of any type and no negotiations regarding SMP language. I made it very clear the concerns of my legal counsel as well as a second labor attorney specific to language. After what I perceived to be a fruitful discussion, I am told “we will get back to you.” In addition a specific request is made to keep the discussion confidential which I assured them I would.

Nov. 17th 7:30 pm.( the same night as the referenced discussion that morning )   With no notification at all to me the BOS announces that Chief Wells is “retiring in July.” Prepared press releases are released forthwith with ZERO communication to me.

Nov. 20th 7:00 pm. Personal call from Selectman Hurley acknowledging the validity of my concerns re: SMP – that this money is not pensionable and suggesting there was room to continue negotiations.

Nov. 23rd 7:30 pm. BOS acknowledge massive public appeal and ask to meet and negotiate.

Dec. 22nd 7:30 pm. The one and only personal negotiation between both sides. The meeting concludes with the understanding that a two year extension with reasonable reductions would be made. It reduces my salary immediately by $8,000 to $165,000. This deduction I agreed to pay back to the Town.

Dec. 30/31st.  The Town Rejects the proposal outlined by my Attorney on 12/22. The counterproposal while removing SMP, demands repayment of all monies and a reduction in pay by $17,000 to $153,000 which is the pay rate of a Deputy Chief. The Town also rejects any two year request with a “one year contract offer.”

2016

Jan. 20th.  Selectman Hurley and the Town Administrator approached me at a department head meeting and ask to speak again on this issue. While I was reluctant I agreed, one contention concern was not staying the two extra years, but rather that based on major issues I have been headlining for the BOS, you cannot place me in a “lame duck status.” I reaffirmed my wish to retire on August 31, 2017. Based on the premise that SMP was not fair, we agreed on a second proposal. MY attorney submitted this on 1/24. Two days before my departure to Israel. I was for two years with the 10% reduction and a onetime longevity increase (that the Unions already have). This proposal reduced me immediately to $164,000.

Jan 24. The Town flatly rejects the proposal and maintains the same, one year and reduces the salary by $17,000 immediately.

Feb 3rd The Town issues a final ultimatum. Accept the offer by Friday February 12th or the Town will move forward NOT to renew forthwith. The date is set for Feb. 16th.

Feb 13/14  A very respected elected Milton official who has followed the matter closely contacts me at home. He is concerned about the negative impact on the Town. He advised that he intends to speak with the Board. He is familiar with some of the talks so far.  By early week he meets personally with me. I reduce my request to an 18 month extension WITH the 10% reduction. My one concern is that based on the fact that SMP did not have the financial benefit outlined, that the Town makes a fair offer back. Based on his discussions he believed we have a deal. My attorney submits a third proposal.  This was flatly rejected.

Collectively between us, we have spent five times in legal fees what any of the proposal would have cost. All contracts are different, many with benefits than do not exist in mine. Each time we made an offer my attorney and I were respectful to the bigger picture of the Town.

Loyalty

This brings me to final point. As I noted in my opening, people expect leaders to “lead.” This has been a long four months. The fact of the matter is I had “zero votes.” Only the three of you could have changed that fact. I hope that tonight is the final time I ever speak of this issue. Some have suggested continuing this fight; others have mentioned voting “no” on a possible override and picketing. I want none of this. This is a wonderful community full of children, parents, great neighbors, and many caring seniors. The Police Department will survive. I am fortunate to have a brilliant Deputy Chief in John King as well as several talented supervisors. Each night you are protected by a dedicated cadre of men and women.

My father always taught me that the toughest thing to be in life is loyal, He was right. I promise to remain loyal to this Board, the people we serve and the men and women of the Milton Police until the day comes that I do retire.

My career has extended possibilities and opportunities beyond ANYTHING I could have imagined. Regardless if I was at a community meeting, visiting a school, presenting to this Board or at a major event such as aftermath of the 911 attacks in NYC, or standing on the Syrian border in Israel as I was two weeks ago. My heart and primary interest has always been in the citizens of Milton.

Being in Israel was a distinct honor. In our travels I was allowed to speak on two occasions. The first came after leaving the Golan Heights on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus Christ offered his famous sermon, The Beatitudes.

The second was the most significant personally, as it came after our visit to Yad Vashem, the world memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It is a sacred place abutting their most sacred cemetery, Mt. Herzl. Yad Vashem depicts the genocide, torture and death of the millions of Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazi’s. Our tour was short but the impact was dramatic. In my pocket I carried a poem, given to me by Rabbi Benjamin, who did such a great job, preparing me for this trip. The poem is titled, “Everyone has a name.”  It was here, as we stood in the cold overlooking Jerusalem that I thought to myself, how I lucky I am to live and work in Milton.

A friend of the Reverend Martin Luther King once said, “You can kill the dreamer, but you cannot kill his dream.” Your vote has ended my time as Chief, but it cannot kill the love that I carry for policing and the people of this Town.

Thank your allowing me this time this evening.

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