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WALTHAM

Bid to open chief search dealt a blow

Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy's efforts to seek a police chief have been dealt a blow. Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy's efforts to seek a police chief have been dealt a blow. (ARAM BOGHOSIAN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

Waltham city councilors have handed Mayor Jeannette McCarthy a significant setback in her efforts to open up the search for a new police chief to candidates from outside the city's Police Department.

The council's five-member Ordinances and Rules Committee voted without opposition Monday night to place the matter on file, removing it from the committee's agenda, and to recommend that the full council do the same when it meets Monday.

Police Sergeant John Brooks, who also serves as president of the Superior Officers' Union, spoke out against any changes to the ordinance.

"The Superior Officers' Union is dead set against going outside of the city for a number of reasons," Brooks told councilors, adding that the union's position is that Waltham officers should be given the chance to move through the ranks and have a shot at the chief's job.

After the meeting, Brooks said that choosing an external candidate for the top department position results in lower morale on the force and added he's never seen such a situation work out well, pointing to Newton as an example.

Newton hired Jose Cordero, who was then a veteran of New York City's police force, as police chief in 2002. He left the job 28 months later, amid praise for lowering overall crime rates and criticism that he was heavy-handed and had upset the status quo.

The current ordinance regulating the process McCarthy is using to replace recently retired Chief Edward Drew was enacted in 1999. It removed the chief's position from civil service and laid out specific requirements defining which members of the force are eligible to apply for the chief's job.

Committee chairman and Ward 2 Councilor Edmund P. Tarallo said he didn't see the need to ensure that external candidates would be considered.

"This city has never had a police chief from outside the city, as far as I know." Tarallo said. ". . . We'd never had a problem or scandal with the department in recent memory, so I don't think there's a reason to go outside."

However, there has been recent controversy within the department after an independent investigator raised questions about whether nepotism was a factor in the hiring and promotion of Drew's two daughters and son-in-law and the daughter of his deputy, Keith MacPherson.

In an e-mailed response to a request for comment, McCarthy said that the current ordinance also restricts her from considering internal candidates other than the department's deputy chief and captains. To do so, she would still need the permission of 10 councilors, two-thirds of the 15-member body.

"Sergeant Brooks respectfully was speaking for the people in the future who want to be chief," McCarthy wrote. "Naturally, they wouldn't want to see an outsider come in, but, as I explained to Sergeant Brooks, I can't consider any other internal people in the department. I don't believe that you should artificially determine who can be chief of police ad infinitum, especially in light of the fact that the term of office for the police chief [and fire chief] is life tenure."

In other business, McCarthy engaged in an extensive discussion with the Committee of the Whole about the state's plan for the nearly 200 acres at the Fernald Development Center and what the city can do to preserve its right to purchase part of the land. Sparked by a council resolution that calls for the city to investigate the possibility of purchase, McCarthy told councilors that the state seemed committed to Fernald's eventual closure and the reassignment of its aging, severely disabled residents to neighborhood-based group homes.

Governor Deval Patrick recently announced that the state would appeal a federal court decision that requires it to keep Fernald open and allow current residents the opportunity to remain there. McCarthy and the council expressed dismay regarding the governor's decision.

Cost is one potential barrier to the city's purchase of any part of the land that might eventually be declared surplus. The councilors and mayor suggested the city try to see what possibilities exist for getting the land at a substantial discount or for free.

Councilor Robert G. Logan of Ward 9 said that Waltham has provided free school, fire, and emergency services, as well as some of infrastructure, over the past 120 years and has missed out on any tax revenue that could have been generated if the property had another use. That should count for something when considering what price the city should pay for part of the land, he said.

McCarthy said she would ask that the law department determine what standing the city might have to intervene in the federal lawsuit.

Stephanie V. Siek can be reached via e-mail at ssiek@globe.com.

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