By Ed Harris Editor
The final meeting of the Charter Revision Commission grew contentious last week when member Dennis Conroy, a Democrat, accused his Republican colleagues of looking to change how the Board of Police Commissioners was managed in an effort to guarantee the police chief position for a former Town Council chairman.
Conroy said the only reason the commission was looking at changing the management structure for the town’s public safety boards was to ensure that Southington Police Capt. Edward Pocock III would be named chief. Pocock stepped down from the board last year after receiving a promotion with the police department.
“The fire commission was brought in as a smoke screen,” Conroy leveled.
As part of the possible charter revisions, the Boards of Police and Fire Commissioners would become advisory only and the two chiefs would report directly to the town manager. In this scenario, the town manager would have the final decision on who was picked as chief.
Pocock was Council chairman when current town manager Garry Brumback was hired.
Conroy’s statements quickly drew the ire of the Republicans on the commission, who said they were insulted by the remarks.
“It’s a direct insult to everyone that sits on this board,” said commission member Andrew Meade.
The possible change-up to the public safety boards also split the public opinion during a public hearing on the proposed charter changes. Of the five people who spoke, three were against the changes, while two voiced support.
Resident Bill Welch, who served on the Board of Police Commissioners, for 15 years through 2003, called the proposed changes “erroneous.”
“I really don’t think this is a good idea,” he said, noting the board was able to facilitate a working relationship with the chief. He added he did not think the town manger would have more control over the chief.
Michael Bunko, a member of the Board of Fire Commissioners, said the commission had not done its due diligence. He said that the commission had not taken the time to hear from either of the two chiefs, the town manager, or the chairs of the police and fire commissions.
“Clearly this was a one-sided issue since day one,” he said.
Art Cyr was one of the two residents to speak in favor of the changes. Cyr said he felt the changes did not go far enough, stating he would have eliminated both boards completely.
“These are good moves,” Cyr said.
The commission voted along party lines to send the proposed changes to the public safety boards to the Town Council. Conroy voted no while the three Republicans voted yes. Democratic member Bruce “Zeke” Zalaski did not attend the meeting.
Three other changes, to the division of purchases, transfers of appropriations and contracts for public works were passed unanimously.
The Town Council voted Monday night to schedule a public hearing on the proposed changes for Monday, June 24, at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Center.