WESTERLY — Richard Silva’s tenure as chief of the Westerly Police Department will end after his shift Wednesday and, according to a separation agreement approved by the Town Council Monday, he will receive severance pay for six months at his current pay rate.
Town Manager J. Mark Rooney provided The Sun with a copy of a heavily redacted document labeled “Confidential Separation Agreement and Release of Claims.” It appears, based on the label of the document, that Silva agreed not to sue the town for wrongful termination. According to terms of the agreement, Silva will be paid biweekly through April 30 and will make a total of $59,044. He will also be paid for unused vacation time.
Silva faced a difficult uphill battle from the day former Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy announced on Oct. 31, 2016, that he had selected Silva for the job over Westerly Police Capt. Shawn Lacey, the other finalist for the job. Members of Local 503 of the International Brotherhood of Police, the union that represents the officers of the Westerly Police Department, issued a no confidence statement in Kennedy and the police honor guard refused to participate in Silva’s swearing in ceremony.
Over the course of the last two years the union filed several grievances and issued a no confidence statement in Silva and later called for his termination.
The Town Council on Monday approved a resolution by a 5-2 vote approving the separation agreement. Earlier Monday night the council conducted a closed-door, private executive session to discuss the chief’s job performance. Councilors Mario Celico and Jean Gagnier voted against approving the resolution. Councilors Edward Morrone, William Aiello, Jack Carson, Karen Cioffi and Philip Overton voted in favor of the resolution.
“I’m not comfortable with what has transpired. The police department acts as a para-military organization, meaning that they are under civilian control and they follow orders up and down the chain of command. I was saddened to see that some, not all, but some were resistant to those orders. It’s a sad day for Westerly. I wish the chief well and this is no reflection on the chief but I will not be supporting this separation agreement,” Gagnier said.
Celico, a retired Westerly police officer and former union president, said he understood officers’ and the union’s “support of one of their own” and their desire for promotions from within the department. But he went on to say he would not support the resolution because of “the deceitful posting of executive session agendas, lack of accuracy in executive session minutes and misrepresentations made to the council by [Rooney].
Celico went on to call on councilors to reverse their previous vote to seal the minutes and audio recording of a Sept. 17 executive session. “Keeping that recording secret shields intentional and deceitful actions and the intentional lack of transparency,” Celico said.
Councilor Jack Carson attempted to respond to Celico’s comments but was stopped by Morrone, who initially asked Carson to stop speaking and then ruled him out of order. Carson started to say that a councilor had conducted a one on one meeting with someone connected to the separation agreement against the advice of Town Attorney William Conley.
After the council’s vote, Rooney said Lacey would run the department in the absence of a chief but will not be appointed interim or acting chief. A search for a new police chief to consider both internal and external candidates will be conducted, Rooney said. Rooney declined to respond to Celico’s comments. On Thursday The Sun requested a copy of Silva’s employment contract. Rooney said he would continue to search for a contract but that it is not clear that the chief ever signed a contract.
Louis Sposato Jr., who previously served on the council and is running for a seat, questioned the need for a separation agreement, saying it would only be necessary if “the town manager has caved to political pressure to remove the chief and this agreement is a payoff.” He also accused the council of conducting an excessive number of executive sessions.
Aiello responded to Sposato, saying, “the insinuation of multiple secret meetings and super secret meetings and nobody knows what’s going on … any executive session that is planned is reviewed by the solicitor to be sure it is in fact required to be held in executive session so it’s none of this nonsense that people like to spew.”