Selectmen Meeting Summary: Permanent police chief selection process underway; St. Jerome’s lease in the works; vaccine planning group formed

December 16, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer

Town Administrator Tom Mayo outlined the process for hiring a permanent police chief to the selectmen last night. Former Chief Glenn Olsson retired last Fall, with Officer David Jones serving as interim chief since that time.

"We're seeking community input for the questions we will ask the candidates in our internal search process," Mayo said. "This is one of the most important positions in town, responsible for the public's safety and welfare."

There will be a dedicated email address for submission of questions -- which the Selectmen's office will make available today.

"We really want this to be a transparent process," Selectmen Chair Mary Power said during the remote meeting.

Today, the town will issue an internal posting for the position, which is open to any qualified Town of Hingham employee to apply. The position will be posted until Dec. 30.

"If we were doing an outside search, we would allow a longer period of time," Mayo said.

The Town Administrator's office will compile the applications for the position and submit them to the Selectmen by Dec. 31 so they can begin to review them.

This will be followed by an assessment process involving current police chiefs from the surrounding area. Mayo will select the panel of chiefs, who will submit written assessments of each candidate following interviews that would be expected to take place in early January.

"We want to be sure we find the most qualified chief, so we are conducting an internal search first since [the most qualified candidate might already be a town employee]," Mayo said.

As is the case with all key positions, "there are certain qualifications we're looking for, and we will continue to search until we find the candidate who has those qualifications," Power said.

Following the interviews by the panel of chiefs, there will be a public interview process during Selectmen's meetings in mid- to late-January. During these interviews, the board will pose questions, including ones submitted by citizens.

Selectman Joseph Fisher asked Mayo, "So no one should try to read between the lines that someone isn't satisfied with our interim chief?"

Mayo confirmed that to be true. "Chief Jones has been very professional. He took over [when Olsson retired, effective the day he submitted his resignation] in an unexpected manner during a pandemic, which was a difficult task," he said. "This process is intended to allow the winning candidate to enjoy the confidence of having the community behind him [or her].

"If a [qualified] candidate emerges, we would expect to appoint the new permanent chief in late January or early February," Mayo said.

Selectman William Ramsey likes the idea of "partnering with the community and opening up the process for citizens to pose questions.

"I have grown up with many members of the Hingham Police Department," he said. "There's tremendous leadership throughout their ranks. I look forward to the process."

In other business at the meeting:

* The Selectmen supported signing a license agreement with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston to allow the Hingham Public Schools to use the former St. Jerome School in Weymouth, just over the town line, subject to School Committee approval at their virtual meeting tonight.

This would provide more space for Foster School students -- several of the classrooms there don't have windows for proper ventilation under COVID-19 guidelines -- to participate in in-person learning. The lease would run from this month through July 31, 2021.

"The challenges of educating 4,000 students during these times is considerable," Power said.

* The board voted to reimburse restaurant owners who have already paid their 2021 liquor license fees for the on-premises serving of alcohol by 50 percent.

This would impact the town budget by roughly $40,000, but the Selectmen agreed it was worth the loss in revenue for the town to support local restaurants, which are a big part of the fabric of the town.

This adjustment was made in response to requests from some struggling restaurant owners for the board to reduce the fee. Anticipating that indoor dining could once again come to a halt per an order by Gov. Charlie Baker if the COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise, Fisher noted, "Restaurants are a vibrant part of our community."

The town will automatically issue these refunds. There's no need for restaurants to request one.

* Mayo urged residents "for the sake of yourself, your family, and your community" to rethink any holiday travel plans or gatherings due to the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases statewide and in town.

"There is light as the end of the tunnel as vaccine distribution in the U.S. began this week," he said.

The Town has formed a Vaccine Planning Group as part of its COVID-19 Incident Management Team to coordinate vaccine rollout logistics for the town. "We’ll share more information as it becomes available over the coming weeks," Mayo said.

In the meantime, an average of about 150 tests are being administered daily at the new Mpathy COVID-19 testing site at 308 Cushing St.

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