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  • Linda Saari
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Voters turnout was light mid-day during the Town Elections Tuesday, March 8, 2011, at the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy in Brookline.

  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Mike Cherkaski drops off his ballot during the Town Elections Tuesday, March 8, 2011, at the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy in Brookline.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Who’s sorry now? Brookline selectmen’s chair loses bid for re-election; chiefs’ firing, hiring cited

BROOKLINE – Selectmen’s Chairman Linda Saari lost her re-election bid Tuesday in what appeared to be a reaction to the way the board handled a constellation of issues related to the firing of one police chief and the hiring of another.

Saari received 312 votes in the race for two seats, losing out to two newcomers, Karl Dowling, who garnered 571 votes, and Darrell Philpot, who received 524 voters.

John J. Carr, a retired Massachusetts police officer who served on the town’s police chief search committee, placed fourth with 299 votes.

The topic of the day at the polls was how selectmen fired Police Chief Thomas Goulden and hired William Quigley III to replace him. Quigley was given the full-time chief position, while he and the town claimed he was working part time so he could continue collecting his state pension.

Earlier in the day, a majority of roughly a dozen voters interviewed by The Telegraph at the polls at Captain Samuel Douglass Academy said they were not supporting Saari in her bid for re-election.

J.W. Brooks, for example, a 20-year resident, said he used his vote to remind the board that, “They work for us.” And, he added, “Your manager wants to know what the hell is going on.”

Brooks said he wasn’t concerned about the chief drawing a pension while working, a concern the board sidestepped by changing the chief’s contract and the town’s personnel policy after an investigation by the state retirement system.

He wanted to know why the former acting chief, Sgt. Michael Kurland, was suspended with pay about six weeks after the new chief arrived.

“Tell us what’s going on and what happened to Sgt. Kurland. He’s a great guy and he just vaporized,” Brooks said.

Brooks was the only voter willing to give his name. Others said they were wary of identifying themselves, fearing social ostracism or reprisal in this fast-growing small town.

Still, they made their disdain for selectmen clear.

“It’s amazing what they’ve done to get around the law,” said a six-year resident, a woman of retirement age, who was voting at midmorning with her husband. “I’m really unhappy about the lack of information, and we still don’t know why Sgt. Kurland is out. It’s upsetting. They said ‘personnel reasons.’ And especially since that man was so visible as acting chief.”

The voter said she had been following newspaper stories that raised questions about whether Quigley is complying with state retirement laws that allow him to draw his pension while working part time. His original contract, recently amended, described his $72,000 a year job as “full time.” After an investigation by the state retirement system, his position was changed to “up to” 39 1⁄ 2 hours. The chief had said he’d work as many hours as needed to get the job done.

The board also changed the town’s personnel plan to accommodate the chief.

“If the personnel plan was good enough for everybody else, why change it?” the voter asked, adding, “If he’s part-time, why is he getting a full-time salary?”

Another, older, presumably retired resident who has lived in town for three years said the issues with the Police Department had sparked his interest in the selectmen’s race.

“I’ve been disturbed by it. It frankly sounds like folks are trying to game the retirement system in New Hampshire,” he said, adding, “The Board of Selectmen have been supporting that.”

The voter shared others’ concerns about the suspension of Sgt. Kurland and also questioned why the board had allowed the chief to bring a secretary with him to the job when there was already a full-time, experienced secretary in the department.

“They’ve basically displaced someone who was long-term and knowledgeable with someone who didn’t have that wealth of knowledge,“ he said. “For an administrative assistant, it’s really important to come in with a knowledge of the town, a history in the workings of the town.”

“I think it stinks,” said another longtime resident who didn’t mince his words. “It should be out in the open, even if everything’s OK. The way it looks, it’s bad. ... It’s as if there is no control, and they’re doing what they want.”

A middle-age woman who has lived in town for 22 years, said the board’s issues with the police chief are “embarrassing.”

“I know Chief Quigley through school over the years, and I highly respected him. I would have expected higher standards. The situation with the girlfriend is inexcusable, sliding her in, and the Board of Selectmen allowing it to happen. We were without a chief for six months, and there was no emergency, but god forbid there’s no secretary for an hour,” she said. “We circumvented our own process to accommodate him.”

And a 15-year resident, an older woman, said she likes the new chief, but not the way the board selected him.

“I think the board should have done their homework better,” she said.

By contrast, a young father said he had voted for incumbent Saari and newcomer Daryl Philpot, whom he met at the town dump recently.

“I was kind of split,” he said. “Linda has been a major player on the board, but on the flip side, knowing Linda, I’m sure she would be as transparent as she was able to be.”

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24 or hbernstein@cabinet.com.