Town forms police chief hiring committee

The town of Milton’s newly formed police chief hiring committee will soon begin vetting the 33 applications received for the job, town manager Don Turner said last week.

Applicants had until October 31 to enter consideration for the top cop position, the same deadline the town set to form the committee.

Public safety director Taylor Yeates said Milton received internal, in-state and out-of-state candidates but would not distinguish how many of each, citing privacy.

The town was also pleased with the number of people who applied for the hiring committee. Turner chose seven Miltonians from a pool of 14, noting he aimed to create a diverse membership after initially receiving disproportionate interest from current or former law enforcement members.

“I feel very strongly that policing today is community-based,” he said, noting that requirement is now written into the police chief’s job description. “It would be counterintuitive to have just law enforcement people on the committee, so we wanted to reach a broad sector of the community.”

The members are as follows:

  • Stephanie Child, retired U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security immigration services;
  • Ron LaFond Jr., deputy director, Vermont Intelligence Center;
  • Trevor McDonald, student representative to Milton School Board;
  • Vikki Munger Patterson, executive director, Milton Family Community Center;
  • John Sonnick Sr., retired Burlington police officer and Vermont Police Academy instructor;
  • Chris Taylor, Milton Selectboard; and
  • Veronica Valz, Milton Public Library trustee and Milton Inclusion & Diversity Initiative coordinator.

Turner said those chosen represent both newly minted and lifelong Miltonians (Child and Sonnick, respectively), a wide range of ages and a nearly even gender split. The town got flak in a past town manager search after assembling a hiring committee of all men.

Turner also wanted a representative of MIDI, a community group formed after accusations of racial hiring practices in the school district exploded this summer. No people of color applied, but Valz, a white woman, is coordinator of the diversity group.

“We wanted people to understand we are aware, and we’re proactively reaching out to people in these types of organizations,” Turner said.

Now formed, committee members have signed a confidentiality agreement and will convene shortly to begin narrowing the applicant pool.

Human resources’ John Bartlett assembled a matrix – based on the job description and job posting – members will use to rate the candidates. It asks them to consider factors such as training and education, community policing experience, budgeting, trustworthiness, “visionary ideas” and fairness, among others, the matrix shows.

Committee members will individually rate applicants on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being “no evidence” and 5 indicating “strong evidence,” and then come to a consensus as a group, Yeates said.

He expects five candidates will emerge as a result. A town timeline shows these interviews would ideally be complete by mid-December.

By then, the top two or three candidates will be forwarded to a group of town staff including Turner, Yeates, Bartlett, Milton Fire Lt. Steve Burke, Milton selectman and retired MPD sergeant John Palasik and up to two non-supervisory police officers for extra vetting.

The top two candidates will be invited to a public Q&A session the first week of January, Bartlett said, after which Turner will appoint a new chief.

“If somebody really wants to be the chief of police in Milton, and they’re going to be a public chief of police, they have nothing to be afraid of to go into a public meeting and let this community come in and ask them questions,” Turner said, noting the selectboard subjected him to the same public scrutiny after he was named (the only) finalist for his position.

Recognizing this process will take place during the holiday season, Turner said the town isn’t in any rush and will take the time necessary to ensure the public can participate.

Yeates suggested Miltonians who can’t attend the forthcoming public forum will also be able to email questions for the candidates. He agreed the new chief needs to feel comfortable in a public setting.

Turner urged the public to become involved in the hiring process.

“I’ve been very adamant from Day 1 that it was going to be inclusive, it was going to be public,” he said. “If people have a feeling or a question or a concern, we want to know now.”

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