The Salem City Council has a chance to show leadership by confronting a looming management crisis in the city’s police department. Whether councilors are willing to take on the challenge is an open question.
Earlier this year, the council rejected a proposal from Mayor Kimberley Driscoll to remove the top police and fire positions from civil service, an antiquated system in Massachusetts that requires the city’s next chief be an internal candidate who scored in the top three on the chief’s exam.
Back in January, Driscoll rightly noted that “limiting our choices to solely in-house candidates does not make sense and is not something we do with any other high-ranking position in the city.”
After much hue and cry, much of it coming from police and fire personnel packing the council chambers (most in uniform), councilors in March rejected Driscoll’s proposal.
At the time, Councilor David Eppley said any change to the hiring process should wait until the department wasn’t facing a possible vacancy.
“We already have people in the pipeline who are ready to go,” he said.
That is clearly no longer the case.
Current Chief Paul Tucker is a candidate for state representative and at this point is favored to win, meaning the police chief job could be open at the end of the year. Capt. Tom Griffin has left to take command of the police department in Peabody (which got rid of civil service last year). And Capt. Brian Gilligan, who applied for the position in 2009, when Tucker got the job, was recently suspended after an investigation found he kept improper records and appeared to have worked private details on city time, essentially “double dipping.”
Gilligan was also suspended for 30 days in 2005 after it was discovered he had an inappropriate relationship with a married assistant clerk magistrate at Salem District Court while he was working there as a police department prosecutor.