METHUEN — In an effort to allay concerns about the audit of the Police Department, Mayor Neil Perry last week brought the lead investigator of the consulting team before the City Council to answer questions and listen to concerns about the integrity of the probe.
Ed Flynn, a seasoned police officer whose resume includes being chief of the Milwaukee department for 10 years, answered questions for more than an hour while seated at what looked like a dining room table in his Arlington, Virginia, home, during a Zoom meeting.
The meeting with Flynn was held at the request of the City Council, according to Perry, after some members expressed doubts about the audit and how it is being launched.
By the end of interview with Flynn, most councilors seemed satisfied that the audit would be free from any political interference or lobbying from within the Police Department.
"It made me feel a little better," said City Councilor Eunice Zeigler. "My questions were intended to ensure the integrity of the audit is not affected in any way."
Zeigler, who asked a question about possible push-back from within the department during the audit, said Flynn's answer made her realize he was the right man for the job.
"He's not concerned about resistance he might get that would hinder the work," she said. "He said he's had experience dealing with resistance and he's got the ability to work through it."
Councilor Allison Saffie said Flynn's answers to her questions "caught me by surprise."
She wanted to know whether the audit would look into improper hiring and promotional practices that may be going on in the department. Without naming names, she used one example of someone who never went to the police academy who was promoted to detective over the heads of other officers with more experience and academy training.
"He touched on questions I was thinking about, like civil service, hiring and all that," she said. "He seems to have a really great background and a lot of hands-on experience."
City Councilor Steve Saba said he was also satisfied with Flynn's responses.
"I think the council as a whole is working together on this and in agreement we need the audit," said Saba, who had been critical of Perry's initial handling of the audit. "Our concern is still that we don't want interference from within the department."
Now, Saba said, it's up to the police officers to step up and testify about what's really going on in their department.
"We on the council have been fighting for two years for these people. They have been calling and emailing for two years," he said. "At some point, the members of the Police Department need to have the courage to stand up and work with him (Flynn) so he can do this audit properly. At this point, the audit is in the hands of every employee in the Police Department."
During the Zoom meeting, Flynn answered questions about a range of issues, from civil service and hiring practices to union contracts and department policies.
While he was unable to be specific, he promised the council that he would be thorough.
"The mayor wants a clear-eyed evaluation of this essential public service," Flynn said. "There are a lot of political variables at play right now. This is a topical political issue and people inside and outside have expressed strong opinions about it."
He added that the mayor "wants to be responsive to the public's concerns, but recognizes there are varying agendas out there."
Among the many issues the group will look at, he said, include "the demographics of the city and the department, collective bargaining contracts, annual reports, the grant process and how it's being managed and audited, the budgetary process and how money is allocated."
Due to coronavirus and travel restrictions, Flynn said he would not be traveling to Massachusetts until after restrictions are eased.
The other members of the investigative team are in a similar situation, although they live closer to Methuen. For the time being, much of the group's work will be done remotely, poring over documents and gathering information before conducting face-to-face interviews with officers.
"We will look at a wide variety of things and dig through the information, so when we do talk to people we have an understanding — do policies line up with practices?" he said.
In addition to Flynn, other members of the group doing the audit include Keri Richardson, an analyst with CNA Corp., Deborah Friedl, retired superintendent of the Lowell Police Department, and Brenda Bond, Ph.D., a professor at Suffolk University in the Institute for Public Service.