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Select Board puts police promotion requests on hold, discusses timeline for Special Town Meeting

by | Sep 6, 2023 | Business, Featured: News, News, Police & Fire

The Select Board at its meeting Tuesday night voted 4-1 to delay consideration of the promotion of two Hopkinton police officers to the rank of sergeant until a departmental review is complete, provoking angry outbursts from some audience members.

Detective Gregg DeBoer and School Resource Officer Matthew Santoro were recommended by Chief Joseph Bennett to be promoted to the rank of sergeant. DeBoer has served as an HPD detective since 2014 after starting with the department as a patrolman in 1999. Santoro has been with the department since 2016, serving in the capacities of patrol officer, field training officer and school resource officer.

DeBoer’s resume highlighted several awards he received during his nearly 30-year career as a police officer in Westborough and Hopkinton, as well as recognition by the Legislature for assisting in a life-saving rescue in 1995. Santoro’s resume showed that he has ALICE active shooter response training, which is used in school and workplace safety programs, as well as Rape Aggression Defense training (R.A.D.).

Select Board chair Muriel Kramer, the Select Board liaison to the Police Department, asked the board to wait, stressing the need for the departmental review to be completed. Kramer anticipated that this review would be completed later in September. The department simultaneously is in the process of preparing its accreditation paperwork, which is due in March.

“I also want to say out loud, for anybody who is being considered, that I will personally consider disciplinary records in my decision whether to support promotions or not for leadership positions in the Hopkinton Police Department,” she said.

Kramer also requested that board members discuss a review process for promotions of this type at a future meeting.

Member Irfan Nasrullah agreed, noting that he would like to have “all the information available to us” before making the determination. He also said that the town’s Human Resources Department should be present.

“I’m not saying that I don’t want to promote anyone,” he explained. “I’m just saying that I want to have a full picture.”

Vice chair Shahidul Mannan complimented the department for its service and said the board is “very supportive of supporting and promoting our talents.” But waiting a couple of weeks for further information would be prudent.

Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch agreed but lamented that the decision hadn’t been made “further in advance” because the officers and their families were present to support them.

Said Kramer: “I would like to personally apologize for that. That is on me.”

Select Board member Mary Jo LaFreniere disagreed with the others.

Said LaFreniere: “I think that they have been excellent police officers, I think they deserve their promotion, and they deserve it now.”

After LaFreniere’s comment, several people started clapping. As they left, some shouted that the 4-1 vote — with LaFreniere against postponement — was “an embarrassment” and “wrong.”

The Hopkinton Police Department has been stung by the placement of two high-ranking officers on administrative leave over the past year, one of whom is awaiting trial.

Former Deputy Police Chief John “Jay” Porter has been accused of committing two acts of child rape while working as the department’s school resource officer nearly two decades ago. Porter resigned in April after being placed on administrative leave in August 2022. He is awaiting trial on these charges, and his next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 4 at 10 a.m. for the filing of a discovery motion in Middlesex Superior Court.

In May, Sgt. Tim Brennan was placed on paid administrative leave, although further details were not released. Kramer announced later in the meeting that a hearing will be held regarding Brennan later this month.

Tentative timeline for Special Town Meeting discussed

Town Manager Norman Khumalo presented the tentative timeline for the upcoming Special Town Meeting and the budget process to the Select Board. The main focus will be on the potential approval of the Elmwood Elementary School building replacement project.

Khumalo proposed that the Select Board could make the call on Oct. 3 for a Special Town Meeting, which would kick off the process. The Special Town Meeting date would be Nov. 13, with articles due for the warrant by Oct. 16.

Because the Elmwood School replacement building requires a town vote on a ballot question, the Select Board would need to select any ballot questions at its Oct. 19 meeting, he added.

The election is being scheduled for Nov. 28, according to Town Clerk Connor Degan. Voting by mail will be available, although there won’t be early in-person voting.

Eagle Scout commended for work on bridge

The Select Board honored Ashwath Sridhar, an Eagle Scout in Troop 4, for his work on building a bridge in the area of Whitehall Woods.

Dressed in his uniform, including a sash adorned with badges, Sridhar, a junior at Hopkinton High School, explained that this is the anniversary of the project’s completion. It was performed in collaboration with the Sudbury Valley Trustees, who own the land upon which it was built, with assistance from New England Mountain Biking Association members. The Bay State Trial Riders Association also contributed to the project.

The bridge originally was planned for bikers and hikers, according to Sridhar. But the design had to be adjusted so that the bridge could allow for horses to travel on it. This necessitated concrete curbing and infrastructure redesign to support 1,600-pound horses, as well as gravel to prevent them from slipping during the winter.

As part of the process, Sridhar had to lobby environmental groups and town officials. Care was exercised not to use materials that would be toxic to the environment.

Select Board members praised Sridhar for his leadership on the project and his commitment to the troop.

“It is always a pleasure to talk to young people who have earned the highest rank in scouting,” said Kramer. “It is not an insignificant achievement.”

In addition to praising Sridhar for his work, Mannan recognized his parents and mentors who helped guide him in this achievement.

“Believe me, people notice,” added Nasrullah. “People notice the initiative that you took early on, and that is a statement of your character, your abilities and being able to see something through.”

Said Nasrullah: “Now we have your stamp on our town.”

Replied Sridhar: “Leaving something with a lasting impact was something that was important to me.”

Residents appointed to boards/committees

Much of the meeting, which lasted 2 1/2 hours, focused on appointing new members to various boards and committees.

Andrea Conboy was appointed as the Youth Services supervisor for the Hopkinton Public Library. She has served as the children’s librarian for the past four years. She was chosen for the position out of a pool of six applicants, according to library director Nanci Hill.

“It’s always rewarding when we can promote someone from within,” Hill said, “but I’ve never seen it more well deserved than in this case.”

Khumalo added that Conboy “executed over 150 programs” this summer alone, demonstrating her commitment to the town and its young readers. She also advocated for funding for the library’s baby play space.

The Select Board voted unanimously to approve Matthew Moyen as the newest member of the Conservation Commission. He is replacing Kerry Reed, who resigned from the commission to become the town’s director of public works. He has experience in civil engineering as well as stormwater design and permitting under the Wetlands Protection Act.

Sheila Frackleton was appointed unanimously to the Cultural Council and was endorsed by LaFreniere and Ritterbusch because Frackleton had applied previously. Joining her will be Nicole Mousad. Each will serve a three-year term.

Several people applied for positions on the Board of Appeals. Associate member Arnold Cohen expressed an interest in moving up, and he was appointed unanimously as a regular member. Michael Heaton and Daniel Hunt were approved as new associate members. The only concerns raised by board members were potential conflicts of interest because they perform construction and plumbing work, respectively. Each said they would recuse themselves from voting on any projects that would involve their businesses. They each stressed fairness in balancing the needs of the town and the impact on its residents.

All-hands meeting, strategic plan reviewed

Khumalo proposed the annual all-hands meeting, where department heads announce their respective visions to town boards and committees, be “scaled up” to include their incorporation into a strategic plan for Hopkinton. He suggested that it should be held earlier in the fall to also contain budget objectives.

Mannan suggested that the strategic plan and the budget process be dealt with separately, as there may not be time to consider them jointly. Khumalo said he hoped they could be done in tandem because some boards “feel surprised” when they hear the Select Board’s budget message.

Nasrullah added that given the time constraints, presenting the budget message during a September Select Board meeting “makes a lot of sense.”

After some discussion, it was determined that the budget message will be presented at the next Select Board meeting on Sept. 19. The Budget Advisory Group, all town departments and boards with significant budgets will be invited to attend this meeting. The strategic planning meeting will be held later in the fall.

Main Street Corridor Project updated

Khumalo explained that the contractor is doing cleanup work on the western side of Main Street and will continue the installation of the sidewalk on the eastern side of Main Street. The transformers still remain unavailable, which may delay the placing of the final layer on the roadway.

Future Select Board business discussed

Mannan announced that he has drafted language that would create three proposed committees to address areas of concern in Hopkinton. They concern PFAS and clean water, oversight of the LNG facility and economic development.

Kramer said that the future of the Upper Charles Trail Committee will be discussed by the Select Board in October. She hoped that the public would remain engaged in the process, contributing ideas regarding its reconstitution and focus.

10 Comments

  1. Brandon

    How about you let the Chief of Police run his department and appoint leadership as he sees fit? What is the point of going through the process of vetting and hiring police chiefs if you’re going to make them jump through hoops to get anything done? He has a budget, if the decisions he makes fits the budget, let him run his department.

  2. EDWARD LEE

    This is one of the most disgraceful, and shameful things I have ever seen occur in a public forum. I had the opportunity to work with both officers, promoting one to detectives, and hiring one. They are both exceptional Officers and are certainly worthy of these promotions. I look back and remember when I attained the rank of Sergeant, and how it was one of the proudest days of my life, shared with my family. I can only imagine the embarrassment these two hard-working officers felt when the rug was pulled out under them in front of their families. One must ask where was the planning in all of this, and is there that much incompetence? The powers to be couldn’t have informed the officers prior to, or put it on a later agenda? It is a sad day for HPD, and I can only imagine that morale has taken a major hit. One of the major, if not top things that are instilled upon today’s police officers is to have empathy, understanding, and common sense. Not one of these were shown by the majority of the Select Board to these two officers and their families. You need to make them whole and have confidence in your Chief’s decision.

  3. Bobby Colella

    I totally agree with Brandon and Ed, this board is a disgrace with the exception of Mary Jo

  4. S. Lynn

    A Police Department that needs good leadership and has two experienced, solid candidates to take on said leadership rolls… sounds like the board needs to step aside and let the Chief run his department.

  5. John McLain

    This is an absolute disgrace and I would strongly oppose having select board having a say in future promotions. They’re not smart enough or in the field to know better than the command staff. The four select persons have lost my confidence and future support. Embarrassment!

    • C.Schu

      Dumbfounded! As a son of a career military father we were taught the important of “esprit de corps” within organizations, especially military and police. A political grandstand stunt like this in a public forum, not only is embarrassing for the Town Goverment and a very poor look- it erodes the sense of support and purpose of our police Chief and his department. At a tough time to hire and keep new officers, it just marks the town as “one to avoid” for future law enforcement hires..and With the migrant crisis looming!! Very selfish & shortsighted.

      • gary b

        The town of Hopkinton has no hotels plus this is the wrong venue for your last statement.

  6. Lori McBride

    This is a disgrace to the town of Hopkinton. Even IF Muriel tried to get in touch with someone prior to the meeting and failed, she could have taken one aside before the meeting started.
    Was this action and call for changing the review process based on the latest HPD personnel issues in the news? If so that is so not fair!!
    As a retired employee of the school system, I can honestly state that Matt was a well respected member of that team. He was so respectful with both staff and students. He was committed to making people feel safe and establishing positive relationships with staff as well as students and parents in addition to still serving the public when called to different calls during the day.
    He SO deserved this promotion . His commitment and character is outstanding!

  7. Oscar Smith

    The Chief of Police should be allowed to run his department without the interence of those who have given the town nothing but an upcoming financial disaster and a “downtown beautification project” that is nothing short of a debacle.

    How many more embarrassments will our town leaders place upon us before we just say that we have had enough?? The leadership is totally deaf to the will of the majority of residents and “march to their own drummer”.

    In my opinion, it’s time to recall the Selectman (with one notable exception) , the School Committee and to terminate the Town Manager. Before leaving their positions, each should be encouraged to ride a bicycle on the “Bike Trail to Nowhere” .

    • Peddling back

      The downtown corridor project was approved at ATM and was under the administration of the 2017 Board of Selectmen: Coutinho, Herr, Cestari, Wright & Tedstone. The most outspoken advocate for this was Herr. Subsequent Select Boards inherited this project.

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