Kittery’s town manager says a no-confidence vote in the police chief by the town’s officers has no legal weight but he will conduct an investigation to get to the bottom of employee concerns.

“We don’t run a parliamentary system here, but I’ll take seriously what they’re saying,” Robert Markel said Wednesday.

Markel plans to meet with each officer in the department to ask about the issues that led to the no-confidence vote against Chief Paul Callaghan.

Callaghan has been chief since January, the same month Markel was hired by the Town Council. Callaghan, a former police captain in Rochester, N.H., succeeded Chief Edward Strong, who oversaw the department for almost 26 years.

Callaghan said he expected some objections to changes he is making in the department but not so abruptly.

“I was not expecting the amount of resistance that I faced and the fact that I faced some of it early on before my changes were given a chance to play out,” he said.

The union conveyed its no-confidence vote to the town manager last week in a five-page letter enumerating many of its concerns.

“We have lost faith, trust and confidence that Chief Callaghan has the ability, knowledge, skills, integrity and focus to lead the Kittery Police Department,” said the letter, which was released by Markel. “We have no trust that he can be rehabilitated as a leader.”

Markel also released a response by Callaghan.

“Since starting here, I have worked toward changing the culture of the department into one that is progressive and contemporary,” Callaghan wrote. “Often change is difficult for employees and they attempt to retain the status quo …”

The department includes 11 officers, two detectives, three sergeants and a lieutenant as well as the chief.

The no-confidence letter is attributed to the officers and sergeants, who are represented by different bargaining units, and says the vote was 15 out of 15 members, although it is not signed. Callaghan says he wants the town manager to investigate the vote because there are only 14 members in the two bargaining units.

The letter identifies several issues. It says the chief would no longer allow officers to practice shooting on their own time for liability and other reasons, criticizes his budget decisions and says he has not followed through on his goal to have two officers on patrol at all times. It also says his decision to reduce the number of sergeants from five to three leaves some shifts without adequate supervision.

Callaghan responded that the department was top heavy and its policies have not been updated for a number of years. He said he has tried to bring the department up to date, drawing on policies used in other towns.

The policies cover matters such as rules on use of social media and light duty for officers who are injured or physically unable to perform, he said.

Callaghan strongly objected to the union’s criticism of his decision to place an officer, hired in April, on light duty after she became pregnant. He said the union seemed to imply he should dismiss the officer to ease financial and staffing challenges posed by her pregnancy, which he said would be inappropriate and a recipe for a lawsuit.

Callaghan said he wants to meet with the officers but the officers’ letter says they do not want to meet with him because they are afraid of retaliation.

The officers’ contract expired almost seven months ago and they have been negotiating a new one, but business agent Sylvia Hebert, who represents the two Teamsters locals, said the complaints have nothing to do with negotiations.

“I’ve got to believe it’s his lack of leadership or follow-through,” she said.

“The bottom line is we’re all for more boots on the street, but his actions haven’t put more boots on the street,” Hebert said. “Matter of fact, it’s taken boots off the street.”

Asked whether the breach is repairable, Markel said it is.

“This immediate matter can and will be resolved,” he said. “I do have long-term concerns.” Callaghan and the union say the department continues to serve the community professionally despite the internal dissent.

“The rift is repairable, absolutely, because I know that the changes I am enacting are for the benefit of the community and the department,” he said.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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