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Recommendations to hire three new officers led the Board of Selectmen to discussing possible changes to the hiring process.

Lanesborough Selectmen Want Greater Role in Hiring Police

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen are looking for a greater role in hiring police officers.
 
For years the town has left the interviewing of candidates up to the Police Advisory Review Commission. That group of five members perform the interview and send recommendations to the Board of Selectmen. Typically, the Selectmen accept and approve the candidates — though that hasn't always necessarily been the case. 
 
"I don't like appointing somebody based on a piece of paper," Selectman Hank Sayers said on Monday when the board was asked to appoint four new officers.
 
Sayers wants the Board of Selectmen to do its own interviews. He asked if Police Chief Timothy Sorrell and the commission could submit the short list of the top candidates to the board and then the Selectmen would do interviews and choose.
 
Sorrell, however, said it is unneeded to force the candidates to go through two separate interviews. He would be more supportive of getting rid of the Police Advisory Review Commission altogether. He said the process is outdated and time-consuming.
 
"I think we are probably one of the only towns that have this cog in the works. It ties down the system," Sorrell said. "If we ever did away with it, I think it would speed up the process."
 
The commission was established in 1967 by a vote at town meeting. Changing that process could require another vote depending on the wording. 
 
Town Manager Kelli Robbins said she'd do research on the original vote and create a menu of options. Those options include simply appointing one of the selectmen to the commission — though there currently isn't an open seat — eliminating the commission's role in officer interviews either by town meeting vote or by policy, or having the Selectmen just simply sit in on the interviews when they are held.
 
Looking at a document Sorrell later found at Town Hall establishing the commission, Robbins said there is a chance the commission was never responsible for interviewing officers at all and was just tasked with interviewing for the chief's position.
 
Either way, Chairman John Goerlach said the Selectmen have always served to "rubber stamp" the commission's hiring decisions. 
 
The request is somewhat of a reverse course for the board. The last time the town hired officers, Sorrell brought the candidates before the board the evening of the appointment. But the Selectmen asked him not to bring the candidates in just in case the board opted against an appointment.
 
On Monday, the Selectmen gave its OK to the hiring of Nicholas Penna full time and hiring Michael Alibozek and Adam Healey part time. While it wasn't on the agenda, Sorrell had also asked for a fourth candidate to be hired on a standby basis, saying the department often loses part-timers and would like to have somebody lined up for the job when that happens next.
 
"I'd just like to have somebody on deck," Sorrell said.
 
The Board of Selectmen did not agree. The Selectmen had set a limit of 10 part-time officers and six full time. The extra officer would exceed that number.
 
In other business, the Selectmen are backing out of the increased hours for the Council on Aging director. The position was changed to full time about six months ago and approved to continue as such in the budget during the annual town meeting. It was a move former Town Manager Paul Sieloff had pushed.
 
But, the Selectmen say they aren't seeing the outreach efforts that were promised when the position was changed. The concept looked to do more working with the Department of Transitional Assistance on a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program partnership. That included having the Council on Aging take a proactive role in outreaching to residents.
 
Sayers said there hadn't been much interest in the SNAP program and thus, the increased face-to-face time envisioned with seniors hadn't come to fruition. Selectman Robert Ericson said he'd like to see somebody knocking on doors to reach out to the community and he's not seeing that.
 
Ericson added that the director had often been used as an assistant to Sieloff on various projects unrelated to the Council on Aging.
 
Despite the town meeting approval to increase the hours just one month ago, the Selectmen unanimously agreed to move it back to part time for now.
 
Somewhat related, the board approved becoming designated as an age-friendly community.
 
"It opens up the town to better funding. It gives us more grant opportunities. It gives us the ability to provide more services," Robbins said. "It is definitely an act of good faith to the senior population, letting them know that you care about them."
 
The board has decided to wait before taking action on local Airbnb accommodations. Goerlach said the state is looking to address Airbnb, which partners with homeowners to offer short-term rentals online, through the building code and that both Williamstown and Lenox are working on zoning bylaws. He wants to wait to see what happens in those places before the town takes on the topic.
 
"We should follow Lenox and Williamstown and what they are doing with it," the chairman said.

Tags: advisory committee,   police officer,   short-term rentals,   

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