Town manager mum on internal chief posting

This flyer was posted last week at the Salem Police Department. While Town Manager Chris Dillon would not comment on his hiring process for the chief of police position, some selectmen believe an outside company should be involved and external candidates should be interviewed.

SALEM, N.H. — A flyer recently posted at the Police Department advertises the open job for chief of the force to internal applicants only.

Town Manager Chris Dillon, the person legally responsible for appointing someone to the leading Police Department role, did not respond when asked about his hiring process, including whether external candidates will also be considered.

Neither did Salem Employee Relations Coordinator Robin Lynch, whose email address is listed as the contact person on the flyer obtained by The Eagle-Tribune.

Selectman Bob Bryant, part of the five-member board Dillon reports to, said he was told by Dillon in February that 12 outside agencies were slated to take a look at Salem's police situation and weigh in on the hiring process.

"We've had almost two years to find an agency to find a bunch of outside candidates. The pandemic is no longer an excuse. You can't say that in February we were ready to send it out but the pandemic hit and we couldn't get it in the mail," Bryant said this week.

He and Selectwoman Lisa Withrow said recently they are largely in the dark about the hiring process under Dillon’s purview.

"These hiring opportunities are at the sole discretion of the town manager. The board, as a whole, does not have the option to weigh in on these decisions. I would like to think after all of this time and turmoil the town manager has had a plan ready to execute," Withrow said. "I, however, do not know what it is."

She added, "My desire is to have a sound decision made and allow the Salem Police Department to be able to finally get out from under this cloud and function appropriately."

Internal applications are being accepted until Thursday at noon, with interviews to follow Friday and into Monday if necessary, according to the posting.

The starting annual salary is listed at $140,000.

According to retired police Chief Paul Donovan’s severance agreement, a year’s salary and a portion of the cost of his other benefits totaled $158,715. Donovan led Salem’s police force for 17 years before his retirement in December 2018.

Civilian Administrator Brian Pattullo has no policing powers in New Hampshire, but Salem taxpayers have paid him $87 per hour to run the Police Department for the past 18 months, while a state investigation into four top-ranking officers, including Donovan, lingers.

Of the four, Michael Verrocchi is alone in being criminally charged in the wake of the investigations.

A judge is currently reviewing a motion to dismiss the case, in which Verrocchi is charged with reckless conduct with a deadly weapon and disobeying a police officer. He is accused of leading two co-workers on a chase in 2012.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward told The Eagle-Tribune on Tuesday that the other investigations — into Donovan, retired Deputy Chief Rob Morin, and Capt. Michael Wager, currently on paid leave — “remain ongoing.”

“I cannot provide a timeline for the investigation,” Ward said, 18 months after the investigations were announced.

Pattullo, a retired Andover, Massachusetts, police chief is under contract to be the full-time police civilian administrator until July 1.

Dillon has not commented on a possible contract extension that would keep Pattullo in town, though the administrator said he is likely to stay part time.

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