By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Mayor Ted Bettencourt plans to appoint an interim police chief by Nov. 1.
Retiring Chief Robert Champagne has agreed to remain on the job until then. Champagne was originally planning to leave by June — and then by August — but both scenarios were upended by the mayor’s efforts to remove the chief position from Civil Service.
Eliminating the Civil Service requirement is designed to give the mayor more flexibility in deciding who to hire as chief and how long the new person’s contract should run. But the change required a home-rule petition and a vote of the Legislature on Beacon Hill, which didn’t come until July.
“I will be appointing an interim chief between now and November,” the mayor said on Thursday. Toward that end, he added, he has “been interviewing a number of retired chiefs and officers on the municipal and the State Police level. “I’ll be making an announcement in the next couple of weeks.”
The new hire will be someone who can manage the department until a permanent chief is named, Bettencourt said. Further, he will be involved in choosing the permanent chief, helping to assess applicants for the position.
The mayor stressed that the interim chief will not be hired from within the department.
“We have some excellent candidates here. But I wanted to go outside. I want this to be a completely fair and open process. I don’t want to give anyone the upper hand,” he said. He did not rule out choosing the permanent chief from among current members of the department but indicated that appointing someone already employed could unfairly affect the selection process.
Bettencourt has praised Champagne’s willingness to alter his plans in order to keep the chief’s office staffed throughout the delay.
“We appreciate that,” City Councilor Mike Garabedian, chairman of the council’s public safety committee, said. “It’s really made a difference having him stay there.”
Garabedian noted that he’s discussed the process of choosing a permanent chief with the mayor.
“He wants to put a committee together to do the search. And he asked, if he did do that, would I participate. I said yes. Hopefully, that’s the direction we’re going,” Garabedian said.
Additionally, Garabedian applauded the plan to appoint a temporary chief for the meantime. “Especially knowing that he will know he’s an interim and he doesn’t want the permanent job. That puts everything on a level playing field.”
Fellow councilor Bob Driscoll agreed, noting that the mayor’s plan shows “He’s trying to be totally objective.”
Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.