Gang of Nine Wants Worcester Police Chief Gone
Saturday, March 24, 2012
As GoLocalWorcester.com recently reported, former Worcester Mayor and fiery local radio personality Jordan Levy said nine of the 11 councilors have been working the phones to get enough votes to ask City Manager Michael O’Brien to dismiss the chief.
Levy called the report “absolutely real,” but is not surprised no one has stepped up to the plate to take a public swing at the issue.
“The pressure is coming on,” he said. “Some of these people don’t have the constitution to stand up for anything.”
Levy said while there were nine councilors in line at one point, the number may be dwindling as pressure mounts.
At-Large City Councilor Konstantina Lukes admitted to GoLocalWorcester councilors have had telephone discussions about Police Chief Gary Gemme, but wasn’t as forthcoming when it came to what they talked about.
Lukes, who admonished the chief during a recent, televised council meeting, said, “I started the discussion on the council floor and I have had discussions as a result of that night.”
At the meeting, Lukes scolded Gemme for has adverse relationship with some local media members.
“I probably overstepped my bounds at the city council meeting,” she said.
Getting Lukes or other councilors to confirm Levy’s report has proven challenging.
District 1 Councilor Tony Economou said he spoke with other councilors on the phone over the past several weeks, but said he has not asked for anyone’s dismissal or called for a vote of no confidence in Gemme.
He said he was unhappy to learn the police chief has traded back-and-forth Tweets and Facebook comments with some of his critics. The chief has had a long and public dispute with a Worcester newspaper.
“I just told [councilors] I don’t think that is productive,” Economou said of public officials using Twitter and Facebook to hash out personal business. “I haven’t asked for anyone’s dismissal.”
Such a decision, he said, is not his call to make. He said he has not talked with O’Brien about Gemme.
District 2 City Councilor Philip Palmieri said he was unaware of any calls by councilors discussing the chief, saying, “I don’t believe it.”
Palmieri gave Gemme a vote of confidence and said he has led the department and the city in the right direction.
“I stand by him absolutely 100 percent,” said Palmieri. “He’s done an outstanding job. We have a safer city. I don’t think there’s a better chief out there.”
Every person, he acknowledged, has their issues.
“He’s human, like everyone else,” he said.
District 3 Councilor George Russell, declined to comment, referring all media inquiries to City Manager Michael O’Brien.
Two calls seeking comment from O’Brien were not immediately returned.
Levy noted the council has no authority over the police chief.
“Councilors have absolutely no power asking for the chief’s dismissal,” he said. “They can take a vote of confidence or no confidence, but that’s it.”
Still, he said, some councilors were calling for an executive session on Tuesday to discuss the issue with City Manager Michael O’Brien, but the city’s legal department said the meeting would be illegal.
One issue would be the state’s Open Meeting Laws, which offer exemptions for holding an executive session. One exemption allows for the discussion of “the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health rather than the professional competence of an individual, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual …”
The exemption, however, also affords the individual the right to attend the executive session with counsel. The person must be notified at least 48 hours in advance.
There might be some question as whether phone calls among councilors violate the state’s Open Meeting Laws. The laws prohibit “oral or written communication through any medium, including electronic mail, between or among a quorum of a public body on any public business within its jurisdiction.”
In this instance, the chief is not under the council’s purview.
Attempts to reach Gemme for comment were unsuccessful. Calls placed to all remaining councilors, including the Mayor and Council Chair Joseph Petty, were not returned.
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