The town of Hinsdale, Massachusetts plans to swear in a new police chief Sunday. The hiring comes after the board fired Nancy Daniels earlier this year, a decision that has divided the town.
A 20-year veteran of the Granby Police Department and a training coordinator with the Western Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, Mark Smith will officially be sworn in as police chief in Hinsdale Sunday. Granby Chief Alan Wishart has served with Smith for the past 20 years.
“Mark has gained an incredible amount of experience here both from the patrol angle and he’s worked in just about every capacity here from a school resource officer to a detective,” said Wishart.
In January, the Hinsdale Select Board fired Nancy Daniels, a 13-year veteran of the force who became chief in January 2013. The board had placed Daniels on paid administrative leave in November because she hadn’t completed training needed to be a full-time officer and her waiver to serve without the training had expired. Daniels cites a hysterectomy and a subsequent ankle injury as reasons for why she hasn’t completed the training. Instead, she says she was fired because of a personal vendetta after the Select Board chose not to reinstate her on a part-time basis or write a letter requesting another waiver from the Municipal Police Training Committee.
“I really truly believe that I wasn’t given a fair shot,” said Daniels.
Former Pittsfield police officer Charles Bassett has served as temporary chief. Bassett was appointed at a January meeting that was moved from town hall to a school next door because more than 100 people in the town of roughly 2,000 showed up. The divide has led to calls for Select Chair Bonnie Conner to resign, police escorting people out of meetings and state troopers called to town hall. The open comment period has been taken off Select Board meeting agendas because of outbursts. In February, voters approved a measure giving them the ability to recall elected officials. Vivian Mason was on the seven-person police chief search committee that sent Smith along with two other candidates to the Select Board for approval.
“What struck me the most is when we asked him how he would deal with a problem, he said he would always want to sit down and talk to people and come to an understanding with people,” Mason said. “I think that’s what we need here.”
The state attorney general’s office found the search committee to be in violation of an open meeting law because it did not clearly define meeting agenda items. The AG’s office has closed the matter after the agenda item in question was not acted on; the committee no longer exists. Select Chair Conner has said she doesn’t have a personal vendetta against former chief Daniels. She says Smith is well-qualified to be chief.
“He comes in with a clean slate,” Conner said. “He doesn’t have any prejudices against this one or that one. He has to make up his own mind and start from scratch.”
The Select Board’s decision to hire Smith was unanimous. Bruce Marshall serves on the three-person board.
“I went along with the Select Board so as not to cause any problems,” Marshall said. “But, again I’m still with Nancy Daniels. I’m still in her corner and I think she ought to be reinstated as chief. But just to make things smooth and equal…that’s why I did that.”
Daniels says she has filed a lawsuit against Conner and Select Board member Bill Goddard as well as the town of Hinsdale. She contends she was unjustly treated, including being denied unemployment pay. She has also filed equal employment opportunity charges, claiming she was harassed and discriminated against. Daniels says she hopes Smith will be a good fit for the town.
“All I can say is I wish him the best of luck,” Daniels said. “If he does what Bonnie wants him to do and goes with their little group then he’ll be fine. If he decides to be like I was and run my own department and take care of my guys then there might be a problem.”
The recall measure still has to pass the state legislature and be signed by Governor Deval Patrick before taking effect. The legislative session ends July 31. Smith, the incoming police chief, could not be reached in time for broadcast and did not attend the town’s latest meeting Wednesday night.