By Todd Feathers
DRACUT -- Town Manager Jim Duggan has been forced to repost the job opening for the police chief's position after an underwhelming response from applicants.
In the first three weeks of the position being posted, the town had received only two applications, both from out-of-state candidates. With the deadline fast approaching, and after speaking with law-enforcement professionals, Duggan determined that the salary being offered, about $155,000, was too low to attract most potential applicants, so the job has been reposted with a salary range of $155,000 to $170,000, based on experience.
"The compensation has to reflect the responsibilities of the position, given the demographics of the town, size of the department and necessity to fall in line with Massachusetts police accreditation," Duggan said.
Under the civil-service system, applicants to the position will go through an assessment center to determine their aptitude for the job. The names of the three applicants who score highest at the assessment center will then be sent to the town, which will conduct interviews and select one of the three for the position.
Because Dracut requested an open and competitive assessment center, the town can review applicants from outside the department.
The paltry response to the job posting follows a rough year for the DPD:
n An independent consulting group blasted the department's leadership and atmosphere.
n Top-ranking officers have filed grievances against each other.
n The deputy chief was suspended for two weeks.
n A longtime Dracut detective has sued the town, alleging that he was retaliated against for bringing to light criminal accusations against two of his fellow officers.
Throughout all the turmoil, the issue of who will lead the department has been particularly sticky.
In June, police officers and their families packed Town Meeting and helped vote down a proposal from Duggan that would have taken the police chief's position out of the civil-service system and given the town more power over the chief.
And In July, when interim Chief Neil Ouellette was brought in from retirement to lead the department until a permanent chief is hired, a lawyer representing Dracut Deputy Chief David Chartrand sent a letter to the town suggesting that he might pursue legal action that would force the town to appoint Chartrand instead of Ouellette.
At the same time, but separately, a group of unnamed Dracut officers threatened a lawsuit against the town for not selecting an internal candidate for the interim position.
So far, no lawsuits have been filed, and no current Dracut officers have applied to become the town's next chief.
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