By G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – According to the Civil Service Commission any controversy concerning the appointment of a police chief to succeed former Chief John Ferraro Jr. is now over.
The Commission released a decision on March 20 that directs Mayor Richard Kos to make Charette the interim chief on July 1 and then conduct a search for the permanent chief.
Kos released a written on March 21 statement that read, “In regards to the Civil Service Police Chief decision, the decision speaks for itself. The Civil Service decision is being reviewed by the attorney for the City of Chicopee. Going forward I can assure the public, and more specifically, the citizens of Chicopee, that my administration will comply with all applicable civil service laws, rules and regulations. This is what the public deserves and this is what the public will get.”
Kos declined to comment any further.
The Civil Service Commission examined the procedure that led to Charette’s hiring over Jebb, who was rated as the best candidate not only by the assessment center hired by former Mayor Michael Bissonnette, but also by the committee appointed by him to interview the candidates.
The commission’s report blames Bissonnette for the inappropriate selection.
The report praised both men as candidates for the position.
Bissonnette posted on his Facebook page on March 20, “Disappointing decision which missed the entire point behind the Charette appointment. A pattern of self-serving behavior culminating with the photographing of a dead girl mandated a change in the culture of the Chicopee Police. An eight-month cover-up of the photo incident was the last straw in that pattern. It is also disturbing that some witnesses clearly perjured themselves in their testimony. Unfortunately the entire department may suffer. Intimidation like numbering ballots in union elections (to know how officers voted) or selective punishment to those who are not favored may now be allowed to return as standard operating procedure. I have no personal or political bias about Bill Jebb who I regard as a fine officer. What was I supposed to do – ignore the truth because one part of it involved ‘politics?’ I believe that his political actions in 2005 were part of the ongoing pattern of conduct that led me to believe that a change in leadership from the Ferraro ways was in the best interests of both the city and the overwhelming number of Chicopee officers who protect and serve us every single day. Those officers should be allowed to do their duty without worrying over threats, punishments or repercussions from their superiors due to personal animosity.”
In a summary of the investigation Civil Service Chairman Christopher Bowman wrote the following: “Two longtime members of the Chicopee Police Department, both with distinguished records of achievement, were seeking promotional appointment as permanent police chief. Notwithstanding the animosity that has arisen between them, I found both Mr. Charette and Mr. Jebb to be decent men who share a devout commitment to their families, the Chicopee Police Department and the citizens the department is charged with serving.
“Mayor Bissonnette, who was the Appointing Authority at the time, was required to engage in a decision-making process that was fair and impartial and free of favoritism and personal or political bias. Ultimately, he failed to do so.
“The city engaged the services of a respected consulting firm to conduct a comprehensive assessment center in lieu of the traditional paper-and-pencil multiple choice examination. By any objective measure, that process was thorough, objective and directly related to the knowledge, skills and abilities of the candidates. Mr. Jebb received the highest score as part of this assessment center and Mr. Charette received the second highest score.
“Consistent with the statutory “2n + 1” formula, Mayor Bissonnette was then limited to selecting from the three highest ranked candidates willing to accept the promotional appointment. He then appointed a four member interview panel whose members were selected because they had a familiarity with the City and its needs.
“According to Mayor Bissonnette, his only directive to them regarding the interviews was that they be fair and honest. After conducting the interviews, three of the four panelists ranked Mr. Jebb as the best candidate and Mr. Charette as the second best candidate, with one panelist ranking the two candidates as tied.
“Mr. Bissonnette also reviewed an extensive background investigation of both candidates and found nothing that would disqualify either candidate.
“Then, without notice to either candidate (or anyone else), Mr. Bissonnette took the extraordinary step of contacting the former campaign manager of his opponent from the 2005 mayoral campaign. For several years, Mr. Bissonnette had believed that Mr. Jebb, who was president of the police supervisors’ union at the time, had a role in disseminating information regarding his prior criminal record. Mr. Bissonnette candidly acknowledged that the answer to that question would ultimately play a role in his decision-making process, stating that it ‘spoke directly to the integrity of the Police Chief.’
“Shortly after being told (according to Mr. Bissonnette) by his 2005 opponent’s former campaign manager that Mr. Jebb was allegedly present when the information was provided to his opponent’s campaign, Mr. Bissonnette decided to bypass Mr. Jebb for appointment, despite the fact that this own review panel had recommended Mr. Jebb, who had also scored highest on the assessment center.
“As part of his testimony, Mr. Bissonnette dismissed any suggestion that his actions tainted the process or showed any bias against Mr. Jebb. This defies logic. For several years, Mr. Bissonnette harbored the belief that Mr. Jebb had sought to harm his political career by releasing embarrassing information related to his criminal record.
“More than seven years after the alleged incident occurred, it was at the forefront of Mr. Bissonnette’s mind as he was deciding whether or not to promote Mr. Jebb. He then accepted what he (allegedly) was told by the former campaign manager and weighed that information when deciding whether or not to bypass Mr. Jebb. In short, this is one of the more egregious and overt examples of political and personal bias I have seen during my tenure on the Commission.
“Mr. Bissonnette then tasked the City’s Human Resources Director with drafting a bypass letter – without stating any reasons for the bypass. The HR Director penned a letter relying on prior bypass letters and focused on what may be considered positive attributes of Mr. Charette.
“Prior to providing Mr. Jebb with the reasons for bypass, Mr. Bissonnette publicly announced Mr. Charette’s promotion as permanent police chief. Only after Mr. Jebb filed an appeal with the Commission and after a pre-hearing conference was scheduled, did the city provide Mr. Jebb with the reasons for bypass – on the day of the pre-hearing conference.
“I have concluded that the reasons, most of which were not included in the letter first drafted by the city’s Human Resource director, were crafted to justify a result-driven decision that would pass muster with the Commission, as opposed to an honest, objective rationale for bypassing Mr. Jebb. Even if that were not the case, the majority of positive reasons cited for Mr. Charette’s selection at least equally apply to Mr. Jebb.
“For example, the bypass letter cites Mr. Charette’s military career as a positive reason justifying the bypass. While Mr. Charette served honorably in the United States Air Force for six years, Mr. Jebb’s service in the Air Force and Air Force Reserves totaled over 20 years. The letter also cites Mr. Charette’s ‘almost perfect attendance record.’ Although Mr. Charette’s attendance record is commendable, he was once asked to write a letter explaining his sick time usage. Further, Mr. Jebb has an exemplary attendance record.
“Mr. Bissonnette’s letter also cites a particular response to one of the interview questions. Mr. Bissonnette’s own interview panel, after listening to the answers to all of the questions, ranked Mr. Jebb as the top candidate. Further, given that Mr. Bissonnette did not formally participate in the interview process by completing a score sheet (and then destroying his notes), I do not consider this a justifiable reason for bypass.
“The bypass letter also references Mr. Charette’s vast experience in the Department, including his hundreds of hours of “command experience” and his involvement in over 1900 bookings. Under ordinary circumstances, those could be deemed sound and sufficient factors when making a promotional appointment. Here, they appeared more geared toward justifying a decision that was tainted by personal and political bias. That is particularly true when considering the broad experience of Mr. Jebb. Over his 26 year career with the Police Department (as opposed to 21 years of Mr. Charette), Mr. Jebb served in the patrol division for five years and then served in a number of other capacities, including serving as the commanding officer of Special Investigations (which included the Narcotics Division), Bureau of Services (which included the Homicide Division), Special Response Team and Detective Bureau. From 2009 to 2013, he was also in charge of internal affairs investigations.
“The bypass letter also references Mr. Charette’s community involvement and a statement that his residency in Chicopee “complies with the requirement of our municipal charter” with the implication that Mr. Jebb’s Wilbraham residency does not. The charter language, which requires any person holding an office in Chicopee to be a “a citizen” and to have “been a resident of the city at least two years” is ambiguous and leaves it open to interpretation as to whether Mr. Jebb, who grew up in the city and lived there until 1985, complies with the requirement. Importantly, however, there is no evidence that the city ever notified Human Resource director or the firm that conducted the assessment center that Mr. Jebb was not eligible for consideration as a result of his residency in Wilbraham. Nor is there any evidence that the City has ever deemed Mr. Jebb, the City’s current Deputy Police Chief, to be non-compliant with the City’s residency requirement. I have reasonably inferred that the last-minute reference to the city’s residency requirement is another ex post facto attempt to legitimize the unjustified bypass of Mr. Jebb. Further, Mr. Jebb has also demonstrated his commitment to the community through his involvement with various civic activities.
“Finally, the bypass letter references the role that Mr. Charette played in various emergency or crisis situations in Chicopee, including a dramatic and dangerous hostage situation. I was dismayed by the attempt of Mr. Jebb (and former Chief Ferraro) to minimize the role that Mr. Charette played that day, at one point suggesting that Chief Ferraro (who was unarmed) and Mr. Jebb (who was at police headquarters) were the on-scene commanders. They were not; Mr. Charette was – and he deserves the city’s unconditional gratitude for his brave leadership on that harrowing day. Mr. Jebb, however, also has a record of bravery, including his role in searching for the killer of a Holyoke police officer.
“As part of the hearing, the City, via Mr. Bissonnette’s testimony, sought to introduce new reasons to justify the bypass of Mr. Jebb, including allegations that Mr. Jebb was part of an ‘old guard’ that resulted in favor (or disfavor) as part of the internal affairs investigations. First, ‘no reasons that are known or reasonably discoverable by the appointing authority ... shall later be admissible as reasons for selection or bypass in any proceeding before the ... Civil Service Commission.’ PAR.08.4. Second, those overreaching allegations, even if they were to be considered, were proven to be baseless as part of the independent investigator’s report.
“After reviewing the entirety of the voluminous documents submitted here and listening (and re-listening) to all of the testimony, I have concluded that Mayor Bissonnette’s decision to bypass Mr. Jebb was the result of personal and political bias. He ignored the results of the assessment center and the recommendations of his own interview panel when he bypassed Mr. Jebb for promotional appointment to Police Chief. He did so based on his mistaken belief that Mr. Jebb played a role, over seven years ago, in divulging information related to his past criminal record during his first run for mayor. Under these circumstances, intervention by the Commission is warranted.”