WESTERLY — The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association has no intention of being drawn into an argument with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 503, the labor union that represents the rank-and-file officers of the Westerly Police Department, the association’s executive director said Tuesday.
“We’re not looking to get in the middle or to go back and forth,” said Sidney Wordell, the association’s executive director.
Wordell made his comments when asked whether the association planned to respond to a letter it received in late July signed by the Local 503 executive board. In the letter, the union responded to an earlier letter from the association to Town Manager J. Mark Rooney. In that letter the association communicated its support of Silva in light of a no confidence vote approved by the union in May. Signed by Col. James J. Mendonca, president of the association and chief of police in Central Falls, the letter said the no confidence vote was “clearly void of substance and veracity.”
In its July 25 letter the Local 503 Executive Board accused the police chiefs association of overstepping its authority.
“The letter is attacking the legitimate complaints of the super-majority of the bargaining unit’s members of the Westerly Police Department,” the July 25 letter said. The letter goes on to call the chiefs association’s letter “clearly void of substance and veracity.”
Wordell said Mendoca’s letter was written on behalf of the association.
“We knew there was a new town administrator and, on behalf of our member chiefs, thought it was appropriate to give a character letter attesting to Chief Silva as we know him,” Wordell said.
Rooney started as interim town manager in May and was appointed permanent town manager earlier this month.
No confidence votes by police unions in Rhode Island are uncommon, but if one occurs involving a chief the association knows well, such as Silva, the association will get involved to support the chief in question, Wordell said. Silva is the association’s vice president and has been “a very active member,” Wordell said.
Silva is highlighted as “chief of the month” on the association’s website this month. Wordell cautioned against reading anything into the timing and explained that the association’s website was recently updated. Along with the update, the association decided to highlight a different chief each month, starting with the association’s executive board. Mendoca was chief of the month in July and Silva will be followed by another association executive board member, Wordell said.
Silva confirmed Wordell’s explanation and added that there is no selection process or judging protocol. The chief of the month designation will simply move through the association’s members, he said. “We’re just looking to build a relationship and build trust with the citizens of Rhode Island. It’s not an award or a recognition,” Silva said.
The union’s dissatisfaction with Silva started as soon as he was appointed. After Silva was announced as the new chief to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of former Chief Edward St. Clair, the union issued a no confidence finding in former Town Manager Derrik M. Kennnedy, who appointed Silva over Westerly Police Capt. Shawn Lacey, the other finalist for the position. During Silva’s tenure the union has filed and won several grievances. The no confidence vote was followed by an outright call by the union for Silva’s termination.
On Tuesday, Silva said he remains optimistic that he and the union can improve their relationship.
“We’re working on it and we’re working every day to serve our community. Like I’ve said before, my door remains open to talk about and work on any concerns they have,” Silva said.
Meetings to work on the union’s concerns have been conducted but Silva acknowledged that some disagreements have yet to be resolved. He pointed to disagreements related to “schools and assignments” as an example. Silva’s proposed officer performance tracking system, which drew criticism from the union because of its use-of-force provisions, has been “placed in abeyance until we can come up with a solution that is acceptable to everyone,” he said.
The union has raised questions about Silva’s leadership ability and management style. Westerly Police Sgt. Paul Gingerella, vice president of Local 503, reiterated the union’s concerns with the letter from the police chiefs association. “The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association has no idea what goes on inside the walls of the department,” he said.
Regarding the union’s view of Silva, Gingerella said, “We have been successful at every grievance filed against the chief and arbitration we have gone to...it’s frustrating that we have to work in an environment when our contract means nothing,” Gingerella said.
Rooney declined to comment for this article, saying he had nothing to add beyond Silva’s remarks.