Northfield mayor's vote extends a shared police chief with Linwood

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NORTHFIELD—City Council here held a special meeting Monday afternoon to vote on whether they would extend the police chief shared service agreement that has been in place for three years having one chief for neighboring Linwood and Northfield police departments.
Linwood approved extending the contract at their Wednesday, June 25 meeting and at that time appointed Lt. Colin Hickey as the new chief.  Robert James has been at the helm of both departments for those three years. James retired effective July 1 after a 29-year law enforcement career.

It was a rocky meeting in Northfield that in the end extends the shared service contract for one year and approved Hickey as the new chief for both Linwood and Northfield.

Councilman Greg Dewees was the first no vote and said, “I question why we are doing this when the new chief of Linwood says he does not want to take on the job, I have to question it,” said Dewees.

In Northfield nearly an hour of testimony was taken, much of it from police officers asking for City Council to table the vote on the shared service agreement. Acting Lt. Paul Newman, the Northfield officer who scored the highest on the recent chiefs’ test addressed council, “People work best when there is a true leader and I can be that leader.  The Linwood chief will do a great job in Linwood, but do you know him?” Newman continued, and spoke of the threat that kept the Northfield Community School closed Wednesday, June 24. Newman said he was one of the officers there responding immediately to the emergency while the chief was out of the city at an event. Newman said that event underscored the need for a full time police chief in Northfield. He asked council to give the officers some time before entering into another shared service agreement to gather the information necessary to demonstrate that it is not a good idea to share the chief of police.

Newman was followed by a number of others; Robert Webb, a retired Northfield Police Officer implored council to look elsewhere to save money and urged them to vote against the extension of the shared service contract. “I have nothing against the Linwood chief, I understand he is a very good officer but don’t do this to Northfield; the city needs their own chief to be right here in Northfield, not down in Linwood. This kind of thing is demoralizing for the officers in this department,” said Webb.

Newly appointed Linwood Chief of Police, Colin Hickey, a Northfield resident himself spoke at the meeting and asked council to not to approve the shared chief and allow the Northfield Police Department to have their own chief. 

Retired Sgt. George Clark, a 26 year veteran of the department and 50 year resident in Northfield said as he addressed City Council, “This is not a critical decision that must be made. It does not need to be done today. There is so much research that goes into buying computers and trash trucks and there is research that needs to be done here. You have to sit down and talk to these people. You need to learn everything there is to learn before you make a decision.”

The most impassioned plea of the day came from recently retired Acting Lieutenant Art Faden. He spoke of the job officers do every day for the city; “These are our protectors, they are our sheep dogs and they need support. Northfield needs a chief full time and our officers need this. Take your time, get the information; information is power,” said Faden. He asked that council not to accept the current mayor’s recommendation to share a chief saying that the voters have spoken at the primary and will not be reelecting the mayor for another term. “These officers that are protecting your city every day need leadership full time,” concluded Faden.

Patrolman Chester Brown of the Linwood Police Dept spoke saying that there is a lot of misconception about the two departments; “People think we are one department but we are the farthest thing from one department. We share a chief and a radio and that is it.”

When the vote was finally before the council members it came down to a split vote with one abstention. Voting in favor of extending the shared service contract were Councilmen Frank Perri, Nick Piergiovanni and Jim Travagline with Erland Chau, Greg Dewees and Jim O’Neill casting no votes and David Devine abstaining. There was some confusion if an abstention is the same as a no vote and therefore the shared service agreement would fail or if it is like the vote not being cast and therefore it is a 3-3 tie. In Northfield the mayor does not have a vote except in the case of a tie.

The fate of that abstention had to be researched by City Solicitor Kris Facenda. After a 10 minute recess so that Facenda could research the proper course of action the solicitor confirmed that with a full quorum, as Northfield had at the Monday meeting, Devine’s abstention was the equivalent of not voting and therefore it was knotted at three votes in favor of extending the shared service agreement and three opposed. The Mayor would make the final vote and the ultimate decision and McGee voted in favor of passing the amendment that extends the shared service agreement for one more year.

Colin Hickey is the new chief of the Northfield and the Linwood police departments effective July 1.

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