Greenfield City Council rejects $35K raise for deputy police chief

WILLIAMGORDON

WILLIAMGORDON STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

City Councilors Rachel Gordon, Michael Mastrototaro, Wahab Minhas, Michael Terounzo and William

City Councilors Rachel Gordon, Michael Mastrototaro, Wahab Minhas, Michael Terounzo and William "Wid" Perry at Wednesday's City Council meeting, where the council unanimously rejected a $35,255 raise for Deputy Police Chief William Gordon. SCREENSHOT/GCTV

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-22-2024 4:41 PM

Modified: 02-22-2024 5:53 PM


GREENFIELD — In a unanimous vote Wednesday night, the City Council rejected a $35,255 pay raise for Deputy Police Chief William Gordon, a decision councilors said reflects the direction of the city’s new administration.

The vote came after former Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. and Gordon negotiated memorandums of understanding (MOUs) last year with then-Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, which would have provided education incentive pay for the department’s two top officers. Education incentives are built into the union-negotiated contract for patrol officers, while the chief and deputy chief positions are negotiated separately.

City councilors said the move to increase Gordon’s and Haigh’s pay was a bad look for an outgoing mayoral administration to negotiate just one week before the city’s Nov. 7 election. Some councilors said if the financial orders had been brought to the council before the city’s election, then maybe they would have viewed them differently.

“I think it is important for the public to know the vote we will have today corresponds with the change of administration,” said At-large Councilor Wahab Minhas, referencing the landslide election of Mayor Ginny Desorgher in November. “I think it was a resounding opinion from the public to move in a certain direction and today we’re going to go forward in that direction.”

Haigh’s education incentive, set at $33,901, also was on the meeting agenda, but was rendered a moot point after his sudden retirement on Feb. 16. In a letter of resignation submitted to Desorgher last week, Haigh wrote that he was forced to retire because of the lack of support from the new mayor.

On Wednesday, Desorgher appointed Police Lt. Todd Dodge as acting police chief, who she noted has a strong vision for the department that will open a “prosperous new chapter” in the relationship between the men and women of the department and the community as a whole.

Desorgher said she supported the City Council’s decision and she looks forward to continuing to work with the council, with an emphasis on transparency.

“I support the City Council; they voted their conscience as to what was the best decision for the city of Greenfield and I think all financial decisions should be made with a focus on transparency,” Desorgher said Friday. “It’s very important for me to foster a relationship founded on mutual trust and support and it’s something I will continue to prioritize as mayor.”

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In a statement provided to the Recorder Thursday morning, Gordon wrote that the contracts were fairly negotiated and the education incentives would line up with Massachusetts General Law Chapter 41, Section 108L, which was adopted by Greenfield and adds in educational incentives for full-time officers.

He noted he was disappointed by city councilors’ statements claiming he acted dishonestly. Contracts for the chief and deputy chief are typically 3-year appointments negotiated with the mayor and negotiations may be opened at any time. Negotiations for Gordon and Haigh, as well as for Fire Chief Robert Strahan and Finance Director Diana Schindler, who also negotiate contracts on a calendar year basis, began in the fall, Wedegartner previously explained.

“I fairly negotiated the terms of my contract with the previous police chief and mayor prior to the date of the election. I asked for the same educational incentive of which every other sworn police officer is entitled to receive … I paid for and received my degrees; associates, bachelor’s and master’s, with full knowledge that I was entitled, by law, the educational incentive,” Gordon wrote. “I am dismayed to hear some of the rhetoric passed on by some councilors that I acted unethical in any way.”

At-large Councilor Michael Terounzo echoed Minhas’ view, saying that he understands why the pay raises were negotiated, but the process should have played out differently.

“While I respect the place where these were coming from … I, as a taxpayer, disagree on the basis where this is coming from. I know there is a pay disparity and there are some that are represented by union and some that are not. That happens in a lot of departments and in a lot of places,” Terounzo said at the meeting. “And, of course, the optics are terrible, which doesn’t help … This could have been brought forward a lot sooner — and maybe it should have — and it wouldn’t have looked the same way.”

The incentives were in line with the Quinn Bill, which was passed into law in 1970 to incentivize police officers to pursue higher education degrees in criminal justice. Officers were offered a 10% bonus for an associate’s degree, 20% for a bachelor’s degree and 25% for a master’s degree. Gordon holds a master’s degree, earning him a 25% increase.

Funding for the bill was traditionally split between municipalities and the state, but former Gov. Deval Patrick significantly cut funding for the program in 2009 and, eventually, the state’s portion was eliminated. Some municipalities still offer education incentives, and a coalition of state troopers is hoping to reinstate a similar bill (S. 1608/H. 2353) to bring back the state-funded initiatives.

When the financial order was brought to a vote, it was unanimously rejected 7-0 by all councilors in attendance. Precinct 8 Councilor Lora Wondolowski, Precinct 9 Councilor Derek Helie, At-large Councilor Penny Ricketts and At-large Councilor John Garrett were absent from Wednesday’s meeting.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.