The town of Lee, Massachusetts has taken another step to replace its ousted police chief.
At Wednesday’s meeting, town Administrator Bob Nason announced a nine-member search committee has been formed to recommend a candidate to serve as the town’s new police chief. Lee’s fire chief, school principal and current interim police chief Ronald Glidden are among the committee members. Nason says he’s pleased with the group’s makeup.
“I think we have good balance, good representation of different interests in the community,” said Nason.
Bill Navin was one of the few residents and that attended Wednesday’s meeting and the only one concerned with the search for a police chief. This follows a standing room only crowd at last month’s meeting that saw Joseph Buffis terminated as the town’s police chief.
“I’m disappointed,” Navin said. “Other than Chief Glidden, what do any of these people know about law enforcement? I thought I stressed my point pretty good that they should get former officers on there.”
The opening for the police chief position has been posted on the town’s website and in The Berkshire Eagle for over a week, and Nason says he’s received 11 applications so far. Nason says he hasn’t taken a look at the applicants’ resumes yet and wouldn’t announce if any current members of Lee’s force were among them. Navin says he and the rest of the town will have to just wait and see.
“I don’t agree with Bob whatsoever,” Navin said. “But if the Selectmen are happy with him, they never question his appointments, so what are you going to do? If we get stuck, we get stuck. We thought we had the best last time. Hopefully he’s acquitted. I’d rather see it internal, but he’s in charge of it, so what the hell are you going to do?”
Nason says the search committee will review the applications later this month and determine which candidates to interview in October and early November. The committee will then refer its top candidates to Nason, who will make a recommendation subject to the Selectmens’ approval.
“Hopefully by Thanksgiving we will have a new police chief,” said Nason.
A similar seven-member search committee was created two years ago that resulted in the hiring of Buffis to replace Glidden, who had served as chief for 17 years. Four people from the previous committee are serving on the current one. Meanwhile, there has been no appeal from Buffis or his attorney Lori Levinson. On August 20, the Selectmen approved Nason’s recommendation to terminate Buffis as police chief over improper use of more than $5,000 in town funds to pay for cell phones for him and his family. At the meeting, Levinson seemed adamant her client had a verbal agreement with Nason that the town would pay for the service plan. Nason denied the claim. Last month, Levinson said she and her client planned to appeal the decision.
“We are alleging violations of the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law,” Levinson said. “We also believe there is basis for a civil lawsuit having to do with Chief Buffis’ employment contract with the town which requires 120 days notice of termination.”
After hearing the proposed appeal, town counsel Jeremia Pollard said the meeting was announced and that Buffis’ contract allows for an alternate payout of 120 days in exchange for termination.
“The town is going to examine whether moneys that it feels are owed to the town for improper expropriation for using the cell phones for personal use,” Pollard said. “Whether we are going to take the money off of that is up to the board and I’m going to recommend that they do that.”
On August 9, Nason suspended Buffis without pay or benefits after he was indicted on federal money laundering and extortion charges. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in February 2012, Buffis allegedly forced the couple who owns the Laurel Inn to make donations to the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund he controlled, in an agreement that the chief would drop prostitution-related charges against them. Once the owners deposited $4,000 into the fund, Buffis withdrew $3,990 and placed it into a joint personal bank account for his own use. On August 29, Buffis pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on personal recognizance. If convicted, the 34-year veteran of the Lee Police Department could serve between 41 and 51 months in federal prison. A status hearing is scheduled for December 4.