By Chris Paul
During the Monday night, March 14, Town Council meeting, a majority of the meeting involved just one topic, a discussion with Police Chief Bill Hart and interim Town Manager, Mike Malaguti on the addition of health benefits to part-time police officers’ contracts.
The subject was brought up at the board’s previous meeting during public comment by retired police officer Dan Bouchard, who asked about the fact that part-time police officers have been receiving health benefits, which were added outside of their original contracts.
At the time, the Town Council had no knowledge of the addition and asked that Malaguti look into the details.
The meeting began with members John Farrell and Joe Green being reappointed chairman and vice chair of the council and the introduction of the newly elected member Chad Franz. The meeting then quickly moved into an explanation of the contract additions by Hart.
Malaguti began the discussion by stating that he wanted to preface the talk by saying that both the police and fire departments have had to overcome a number of challenges over the past few years in hiring.
Hart began by saying the his department has typically run over the past four years with seven open positions and said over that period they have had a change of personnel of about 38 people. There have been 20 officers who have left and 17 people have been hired. Meaning that a third of the sworn officers in the department has shifted over the past four years.
Hart added that hiring candidates in Londonderry is “tough and specific” and they must be good fit with the community. He also said that it takes about a year and a half to train officers.
In regard to part-time officers receiving health benefits, Hart said that the negotiations for that was done through a number of avenues, but mainly through the use of a stipend given to officers who had worked over 10-years for the department, which defrays the cost of health insurance.
He added that with this tool they were able to add three retired officers who are full-time certified, to part-time positions.
Malaguti added that right now, “It’s a really hard time to be a police officer in America.” He said that prior to 2019 they really have only about three open positions per year, but recently that number has risen to about seven.
Malaguti continued by saying that the town has taken three full-time control officers and converted them into a part-time fleet manager, an animal control officer and a Conservation Ranger. He said they have also increased the animal control officer’s hour, due to need, all for a savings of $128,187.
He also added that due to COVID, these part-time officers have been able to back-fill when full-timers were out.
Bouchard spoke at the meeting saying that he was glad this has come out, because he felt that it allowed for transparency on this issue. He added that this “sidebar” to the contract was put in place two years ago and the Town Council was completely unaware of it.
“The sidebar increases the pay considerably from what was presented to the taxpayers to vote on.”
He also felt that there should be a Town Councilor involved in all contract negotiations.
Bouchard mentioned that he had proposed doing this sort of thing a few years ago when the schools were looking into resource officers and was told it wasn’t something that could be done.
He suggested the two of the part-time officers could be combined into one full-time office to save the cost of the add-ons such as health insurance.
Bouchard finished by saying that he understands that the Police Department are having a hard time filling positions currently, but felt that the sidebar additions should have been brought out publicly.
Resident Richard Bolinski also spoke on the sidebar addition reiterating that idea that the taxpayer should know about changes made to employee contracts.
Bolinski said, “The fact that nobody on the council knew that this was done. That’s an issue.”
He focused on making sure that transparency is being maintained in the town adding that, “Things need to change.”
When asked if things were being done incorrectly when it comes to this matter, Malaguti told the council that under the Londonderry Town Charter, the Town Manager is the Chief Administrative Officer of the town and is responsible for the administrative and financial affairs of the town and listed a number of RSA’s that allowed him to change contracts.
Malaguti felt that it was well with Kevin Smith’s authority to change the contracts.
The issue of whether giving health benefits to part-time employees would come up through other departments now that the police have set a precedent came up a few times during the discussion and Hart explained that this sidebar was set up very specifically to these three positions.
The discussion ended with Farrell saying that they would continue this at a later date when they have more information.