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  • Correspondent photo by Bruce Preston

    Brookline Police Chief Bill Quigley III started his position on Monday, October 26th. Quigley says that the patrol officers are the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the department and he looks forward to developing an environment of community policing within the town.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Brookline has no official record of chief’s hours

BROOKLINE – The town doesn’t keep an official record of how many hours its part-time police chief works, other than the time slip that Chief William Quigley III fills out for payroll every week.

But selectmen said they consider their weekly approval of Quigley’s payroll adequate oversight, even if they aren’t keeping an exact record of how many hours he works.

The only other account of the chief’s hours is contained in the duty logs, kept by the Hollis Communications Center, but those aren’t accurate either, selectmen said.

Even though Quigley and the town must comply with strict state retirement rules ensuring he is a part-time employee since he is also collecting a pension, the chief, selectmen and retirement officials are content with the status quo, despite a record of violations early in Quigley’s tenure as chief.

Questions about how many hours the chief was working came up following a probe in February by the New Hampshire Retirement System: While the chief’s weekly time card said he was working 37 hours, duty logs maintained at the dispatch center revealed that he was putting in considerably more time.

When he was hired, Quigley told officials he could work 37 hours in order to continue to draw his pension and he would work any additional hours to get the job done.

But following the NHRS investigation in February and a warning from a federal auditor, town officials revised the chief’s contract and the definition of part-time hours for police officers.

The retirement system ordered the town and the chief to pay back contributions owed to the retirement system while the chief was working full time, apparently resolving the issue.

Since March, the duty logs and the chief’s time sheets have matched: both show that he is around working 37 hours a week.

Neither the town nor the state, furthermore, have expressed additional concerns.

“I’m not concerned about it, because the chief understands the environment in which he’s working, the publicity associated with part time and receiving a pension, and absent any data or information to the contrary, I trust that he’s not exceeding the time,” said Selectman Darrell Philpot. “We have a process so if he exceeds (part-time hours), he will notify the board. Should he be required to exceed his hours for the week, we’re obligated to make a pension contribution.”

The retirement system had two words for the issue: No comment.

The state retirement system allows towns and cities flexibility in working out employment agreements with retired public employees. And it’s not uncommon for police or other public service employees to retire from the state at a relatively young age and continue working.

Quigley, for example, is 53 and has been retired for eight years. But he has never stopped working.

Previously, he worked for the state Liquor Commission and as deputy police chief in Weare.

Some argue that double-dipping -- the practice of drawing a pension and collecting a paycheck -- is so commonplace that the state retirement system is running short of funds.

Towns and current full-time employees have to pay more into the system to ensure there’s enough money left when today’s public employees reach retirement age.

Yet from the town of Brookline’s point of view, they got a qualified police chief on the cheap with Quigley, who makes $72,000 a year on top of his state pension.

Selectman Chairman Tad Putney has repeatedly pointed out that hiring Quigley is saving money because the town doesn’t pay his health benefits and neither the chief nor the town is required to contribute to the retirement system.

The issue was a call to action from some town residents.

Dennis Skey, who moved to Brookline from New Jersey in 1997 and has recently been lobbying the Board of Selectmen to run a more open government, sees flaws in the system.

An electrical engineer who works as a verification consultant in the electronics industry, Skey has questioned the board’s decision to hire a retired police officer as part-time chief.

“I have no malice toward Bill (Quigley)” Skey said, adding that he and Quigley were members of the same adult softball team in town, and have been friends for years.

But, “When I read about Bill Quigley, I was surprised to see he got the job, because he was retired, and Brookline was interviewing people for a full-time job position,” Skey said. “With all the confusion, it appeared that everybody, including the NHRS, claimed ignorance. They weren’t sure what the rules were.”

Skey said as the son and brother of firefighters, he has a different understanding of retirement, and pensions.

“When they retired, that meant they stopped working. Physically, they had to take early retirement because of health issues, due to their jobs. The initial intent for early retirement was for situations like this.”

He also points out that governments have used the retirement system “to strategically reduce head count” by pushing people to retire rather than laying them off.”

Meanwhile, individuals “game the system by retiring early and going back to work,” Skey said.

“Pensions used to be insurance policies,” he added.

Now, retirees who continue working are funding luxury lifestyles.

“It’s out of proportion. People want to have two homes. They say, ‘Everyone else is doing it, why can’t I do it?’ Ask anyone who is doing it if it’s right, and they will tell you: ‘I only work part time.’ Their justification is everyone is doing it.”

Still, the town’s Board of Selectmen appears to be comfortable with the status quo. Having resolved the chief’s status, and hours, as a part-time employee, they’re leaving it to him to keep his end of the bargain.

“The official time is what his time sheet is,” Selectman Jack Flanagan said. “I’ve said repeatedly that I’m very happy with the operation of the police department. The police department is well-run, the employees are happy, and it’s a better police department since hiring Bill Quigley.”

By contrast, Skey worries that taxpayers don’t understand what they’re paying for.

“The town is the taxpayer, and the taxpayers are paying for everything,” he said.

Selectman Chairman Tad Putney did not return a call from the newspaper and Selectman Karl Dowling delcined to comment.

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