Police captain’s tenure remains in question after marathon Westerly Town Council session

Police captain’s tenure remains in question after marathon Westerly Town Council session

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WESTERLY — The question of whether Westerly Police Captain Shawn Lacey will be required to retire on Thursday when he reaches 30 years of service remained unanswered following a marathon Town Council meeting that lasted nearly eight hours, from Monday evening to early Tuesday morning.

A public law pertaining to Westerly police officers requires all police except the chief to retire after 30 years of service but Lacey, through his lawyer, had asked for an opportunity to meet with the council to discuss the law. After the proposed meeting was initially denied, prior to a council reorganization that saw Councilor MarioCelico stripped of his role as the council’s presiding officer, new Council President Edward Morrone scheduled a “possible executive session” for the council to meet with Lacey and his lawyer.

That session occurred but only after an involved debate concerning whether the council had authority to decide the length of Lacey’s work tenure or whether the issue should be handled solely by Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy. The council also engaged in debates on procedure and whether the meeting agenda was properly organized. The night also saw a quarrel over council meeting minutes and a lengthy public hearing on zoning regulations for the area surrounding Westerly State Airport. Morrone allowed some residents to comment on the airport both during the citizens comment portion at the beginning of the meeting and then again during a public hearing on the airport zoning regulations.

Additionally, three councilors used their time on the council dais to review this reporter’s work.

Ultimately the council voted 4-3 to conduct the executive session with Lacey and his lawyer. The private session lasted two hours but most of it involved council members talking among themselves. Lacey and his lawyer were in the town manager’s conference room, where the session was conducted, for less than 30 minutes. Morrone and Councilors William Aiello, Jack Carson and Karen Cioffi voted in favor of conducting the session. Celico was joined by Jean Gagnier and Philip Overton in voting against the private meeting, but did attend.

At the conclusion of the executive session, the council reconvened briefly in public. Morrone said no votes were taken during the executive session, the session’s minutes were sealed, and the meeting was adjourned. After the meeting, Morrone would say little other than “the issue was assessed fully by each councilor” and that the council had heard from Robert P. Brooks, Lacey’s lawyer. Morrone would not say whether he anticipated the issue to be on another council agenda in the near future.

On Tuesday afternoon, Town Manager DerrikM. Kennedy declined to disclose exactly what Lacey is seeking, saying that information was confidential because it had been discussed during the executive session.

“The councilors have provided me with their thoughts and opinions. Ultimately, as this is a personnel decision, it is up to me and I hope to make a decision soon,” Kennedy said.

Gagnier questioned whether Lacey’s request to meet with the council should have been entertained at all because of section 4-1-4 in the Town Charter, the non-interference clause, which states, “Neither the Council nor any of its members shall in any manner dictate the appointment or removal of any Town administrative officers or employees whom the Manager or any of his subordinates are empowered to appoint, but the Council may express its views and fully and freely discuss with the Manager anything pertaining to appointment and removal of such officers and employees.”

Gagnier also noted that the Town Council faced a similar situation in 2007 when former Westerly Police Capt. Lauren Matarese asked the council to grant her request to work through the remainder of the year. According to council minutes from June 2007, former Town Attorney Steven Hartford advised the council that Matarese’s request was one that should be handled administratively by the town manager, not by the Town Council. At the time, officers were required to retire after 25 years of service but could request one-year extensions. Matarese, according to the minutes, had signed an agreement two years prior and agreed to a certain retirement date. Hartford advised the council that Matarese was asking the council to overrule a decision of the town manager and said that an executive session could not be held because the administration had not raised Matarese’s request as a personnel issue.

Gagnier then proposed an amendment to the council’s motion to go into executive session. The amendment would have required the council to reaffirm its intention to uphold the non-interference clause of the Town Charter. The motion failed 4-3 with councilors voting the same way they would later vote on the motion to go into executive session.

Celico questioned why the council’s agenda called for an executive session for a personnel matter. “I’m not aware of any questions concerning Capt. Lacey’s job performance,” Celico said.

Overton said he would vote against the executive session “because I am very disturbed that the majority of this council wouldn’t affirm that it will abide by the charter.”

Morrone, Aiello and Cioffi  said the affirmation was not necessary since the council members each swore an oath to uphold provisions of the charter when they were sworn in to office.

Town Attorney William ConleyJr. said he recommended the executive session be placed under the personnel category because he advises the category be used whenever an executive session involves an individual who must be notified in advance of the proposed session and given the opportunity to either have the session in public or private.

The council also argued over whether to vote on the executive session with Lacey along with a vote for other scheduled executive sessions. The agenda listed the executive session involving Lacey as separate from the others. The council eventually voted on Lacey’s session separately and tabled the others because it was so late.

Lacey declined to comment for this article. Brooks did not return a message seeking comment.



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