OLD SAYBROOK — Police Commission Chair Alfred Wilcox said on Tuesday that he planned to ask the commission members at the meeting in June to rescind three controversial by-law changes that the commission passed in April.
The by-laws, which deal with policies around handling of correspondence from the public, rules for public comment and hearings for officers, have been flagged by two attorneys working for the town as being an overreach of the police commission’s authority.
Last week, attorney James Tallberg, who was recommended by the town’s insurance carrier, gave an opinion that reinforces an earlier opinion from town attorney Michael Cronin that the changes to the committee’s by-laws should be reversed. Cronin said he feared that one of the by-laws, which allowed commissioners to decide whether to share a piece of correspondence with other commissioners or the chief, could open the town to potential liability.
In a letter that Wilcox addressed to Fortuna on Monday, the police commission chair said that he found the advice of both Cronin and Tallberg “somewhat opaque.” He said he was also concerned that the attorneys did not offer any suggestions as to how the police commission could achieve its goals, which included giving members of the public the “opportunity to express both satisfaction and dissatisfaction” during public comment and giving members of the public who might not feel comfortable filing a complaint with the police department an alternative way to get their concerns resolved.
Wilcox requested that Fortuna ask Tallberg to attend the Police Commission meeting on June 27.
But in a response to Wilcox emailed on Monday, Fortuna said that the town had already spent a great deal of time and money consulting both Cronin and, at Wilcox’s request, a second attorney. He said that both attorneys had rendered “unbiased and extremely detailed opinions” about the by-laws.
“Your response has been to insult town council Michael Cronin in a public meeting (outside his presence) and now to claim Attorney Tallberg’s 5-page opinion is “opaque” when it is far from that. It is time for you as a commission member to cease acting as counsel to the commission and to promptly follow the advice of counsel as directed by Attorney Tallberg, however much you disagree,” Fortuna said.
Fortuna said that he expected the police commission to reverse its recent changes to the commission’s by-laws at its June meeting.
Selectman Scott Giegrich said at a board of selectmen meeting on Tuesday that the elected members of a commission should make sure that their decisions were in line with the town’s legal counsel.
“The legal opinion from Karson and Tallberg is clear and prescribed,” said Giegrich, who added that Tallberg had reviewed documents, correspondence and the video from the April 25th police commission meeting.
“Members of the police commission cannot egregiously ignore sound legal advice thus leaving the town liable as a result. Each member’s thoughtful and reasoned action are needed to correct this concerning issue,” said Giegrich.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Wilcox reiterated that he never intended the police commission’s actions to cause discomfort in the town.
Wilcox said he also planned to ask Cronin to assist the commission in making changes to the by-laws that Cronin would not regard as placing the town at legal risk.
“I … intend to work with town counsel, Mr. Cronin to see if he can help us figure out what he would regard as a legal way to accomplish what I think are perfectly appropriate objectives,” said Wilcox.