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Officials say former Newton police employee shut down department’s site over pay dispute

“Chief Carmichael and I are committed to transparency, accountability, and a full investigation of what happened," the mayor said.

A screenshot of the Newton Police Department website appeared on July 5, 2022. The Newton Police Department's former longtime information technology director shut down the police website for more than a week amid a pay dispute earlier this summer, according to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller. Boston Globe Photo Import

Officials in Newton launched an investigation after a city employee allegedly used the Newton Police Department website to resolve a pay dispute.

Steven Smith, 73, a former longtime information technology director, took down the department’s website for days in June and July, according to The Boston Globe.

According to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, it was an attempt to receive $137,000 in accrued compensatory time that Smith believed he was owed, the paper reported.

During the time the website was shut down, a message was displayed instead.

“THIS SITE IS NOT EXPERIENCING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES.” read text on the top of the screen in all capital, red lettering. 

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NEWTONPOLICE.COM has provided the residents of Newton information for the past twenty years at no cost to the City. Please ask Mayor Fuller to have this site restored,” read the rest of the page. 

The former official city website, newtonpolice.com, is owned by Smith and thus he controls who can change and access the website, according to the Globe. He has not yet turned over these permissions to Newton officials, the paper reported.

The city has since created a new police department website, which serves as a key resource for emergencies and routine matters. The newtonpolice.com website is no longer active, according to the Globe.

Smith notified the city he was leaving his position with the police department’s IT team in March. He then, according to Fuller, asked the city to reimburse him for comp time.

The city declined, citing a policy that doesn’t allow non-union workers to accrue more than 40 hours. There is an exception if the mayor’s office allows it, but Fuller said the city has no record of granting that permission to Smith, according to the Globe.

Smith argues against this point and says his intentions were clear. 

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“All actions I took in my role were done with the approval and authorization of the Newton police chief at the time. I am disheartened by the city’s representation of the facts in this matter. I will continue to work with the city to resolve any outstanding issues,” Smith told the paper. 

Smith’s attorney Timothy Burke wrote in a letter to Newton City Solicitor Alissa Giuliani that permission for Smith’s comp time was granted both in writing and verbally by a Newton chief of police, although the letter did not name which one. 

In his position as IT director with Newton, which he held from August 2004 to early April this year, Smith made more than $150,000 in the last year. In his new position with the Massachusetts Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, he will make $165,000 a year, according to the paper.

The Massachusetts Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission or POST was created in 2020 in accordance with a state police reform bill and works to certify officers and possibly investigate claims of misconduct. 

After the Globe’s reporting following a records request, Fuller announced the city was investigating Smith. 

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“Both [Police Chief John Carmichael] and I are disturbed by what we’ve found happening within the Newton Police Department’s IT function,” Fuller said in a statement. 

A June 27 email, written by Carmichael and sent to his coworkers, including Fuller, said. “I think it may be appropriate to notify legal and consider informing POST regarding this behavior by Mr. Smith. I am sure that this conduct is not in the best interest and the standards required by POST.” 

The POST Commission’s Executive Director Enrique Zuniga said POST conducted a detailed background and references check before hiring Smith. 

“The current allegations are very different from what we heard from Newton officials during the hiring process a few months ago,” Zuniga said in a statement to the Globe. “POST does not comment on unresolved and unrelated personnel issues involving the prior employment of its staff members, and we have not heard anything that warrants a response from the POST Commission.”

The city’s review of the police website has triggered wider questions about police department protocols, including the use of badges; cruisers, unmarked vehicles, and take-home vehicles; and police lights, according to the Globe.

“Chief Carmichael and I are committed to transparency, accountability, and a full investigation of what happened,” Fuller said. 

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