OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s police commission voted on Monday night to hire an attorney to provide a legal opinion on the extent of the commission’s authority in overseeing the police department.
Alfred Wilcox, who chairs the commission, said that the idea to hire a lawyer was the suggestion of former chair Frank Keeney. According to Wilcox, Keeney said that the question of authority was an issue that he felt divided the commission along party lines.
“Many of the Republicans thought that the police commission’s authority was limited to hiring, firing, promoting and disciplining,” said Wilcox. “And many of the Democrats thought that the commission’s authority was much broader than that and included oversight and the establishment of policies and the like.”
Wilcox said he had spoken to First Selectman Carl Fortuna, and that Fortuna said the town would be willing to pay for the lawyer through the town budget.
Wilcox said he had interviewed attorney Christopher Hodgson, with the firm Berchem Moses, who is the town attorney for Stratford and attorney for the police commissions in Guilford, Groton and West Haven. He is also the labor attorney for several towns. According to Wilcox, Hodgson said he could give a legal opinion to the commission for no more than $5,000.
The commission voted unanimously to contract Hodgson.
The commission also voted 6-1 in favor of placing commissioners’ email addresses on the town website.
Wilcox and Notar-Francesco said they felt having individual emails available on the website would allow citizens who felt comfortable contacting only one or two commissioners to do so.
Old Saybrook’s manager of information technology, Larry Hayden, advised that any emails sent to a commission member should be shared with all commissioners, and that replies should come from the chair of the board. He said the commission needed to be careful not to hold discussions by email, which would violate Freedom of Information laws.
“That says to me that care is required, but I still think it’s very important that we be accessible to our public,” said Wilcox.
Commissioner Joseph Masselli said he would prefer to see a contact form rather than an email address because he was concerned that someone would email commissioners in an emergency situation.
The commission ultimately voted to include a disclaimer on the website saying that communications were not confidential and that the emails should not be used in the case of an emergency.
The opposing vote, Commissioner Carl Von Dassel, said he believed that emails to the commission should be directed to the chairperson.
The commission also provided an update on the ongoing search for a performance evaluation for Chief Michael Spera.
Commissioner Jessica Calle said she had reached out to 20 police chiefs in the New England region, 12 of whom, she said, have annual performance evaluations. She said she also reached out to 23 police chiefs in Connecticut, 18 of whom have annual performance evaluations.
Calle said she had received three examples of police chief evaluations from Connecticut towns, and that she expected to receive more.