DRACUT — What a difference $15,000 makes.
Earlier this year, Town Manager James Duggan posted the police chief’s job with a salary of around $155,000. The response disappointed Duggan: Two applicants, one from New Hampshire, the other from Texas. Geography aside, neither was considered qualified to rescue a department mired in turmoil.
Duggan tore up the posting and wrote a new one, this one offering a salary up to $170,000. The response has Duggan “extremely happy:” 32 applicants, including two in-house candidates.
The deadline for applying was Wednesday at 10 a.m.
“I am extremely happy with the response to the reposting,” Duggan said in an interview with The Sun. “I am equally pleased with the expertise and professional caliber of the applicants. It’s an impressive field.”
When pressed on who the local applicants are, Duggan wouldn’t budge. However, sources told The Sun they are Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand and Lt. Stephen Chaput.
The strong response to the paltry response to the job posting follows a rough year for the Police Department.
An independent consultancy blasted the department’s leadership and atmosphere, top-ranking officers have filed grievances against each other, the deputy chief was suspended for two weeks, and most recently a long-time 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 reject a proposal from Duggan that would have taken the police chief’s position out of the civil service system, giving the town more power over the police chief.
And In July, when interim Chief Neil Ouellette was brought in from retirement to lead the department until a permanent chief was hired, a lawyer representing Chartrand sent a letter to the town suggesting 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. Nothing materialized in either case.
For Duggan, that history is in the rear-view mirror as he hopes to have a new chief on the job in May.
A private firm, Public Safety Consultants, will begin a three-day assessment center with all the candidates next week. During the three-day center, all candidates will be interviewed and tested and evaluated on myriad issues facing local law enforcement.
When the center is completed, the candidates will be ranked. Duggan will then interview the top three candidates and make a selection.
Follow Scott on Twitter @cscottlowellsun.