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Mayor Craig: 'Chief days' probe will identify who's responsible and how much it cost city

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 21. 2018 3:15PM
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig speaks at a press conference about a fentanyl bust at federal court in Concord earlier this year. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — Mayor Joyce Craig said on Wednesday that the city will perform an internal audit of a long-standing police department practice whereby police chiefs rewarded officers with a paid day off that isn’t counted toward earned vacation time.

Police Chief Nick Willard suspended the practice Tuesday following inquiries from the New Hampshire Union Leader, but several elected and appointed city officials said they would like to know who instituted the policy, why, and how much it has cost the city in the form of unused vacation time bought back from police officers when they left the department.

“I don’t know what information is available, but I can tell you that we will internally take a look at it and do an audit of the records that are available,” Craig said.

Willard awarded chief days to more than 100 officers in 2017, he said, for a variety of reasons. They include the arrest of a serial robber, and recruiting a trained officer from another department, which reduces Manchester’s training costs.

The largest blocks of chief days were awarded to 47 officers who did not take a sick day during the fiscal year and 41 who volunteered with Footrace for the Fallen, a charity honoring police officers who died in the line of duty.

Financial impact

Willard and former chief David Mara said Manchester police chiefs have been giving chief days to officers as far back as the early 1990s, before either of them held the department’s top job. They described the practice as a cost-effective way to encourage officers not to call out sick, which could force the department to fill the vacant shift with another officer earning overtime.

What is not clear is the aggregate financial impact chief days have when employees retire or leave to take another job.

Under their collective bargaining agreement, Manchester police officers are eligible for up to 400 hours of unused vacation buyback when they leave the department. Vacation time not taken due to a chief day would accrue for these buy-backs.

“This is city funds so it would seem like (the police department) would need to have some kind of authorization to do that,” said Jane Gile, the city’s human resources director. Giles said she is not aware that the Board of Aldermen or former mayors ever approved the practice, nor that any other city departments give days off to reward employees.

Fire Chief Daniel Goonan said his department does not have any kind of comparable system.

In her first interview on the policy since an article referencing it appeared in the New Hampshire Sunday News, Craig initially said Wednesday morning that any questions about its propriety or an audit should be directed to the human resources or police departments. Several hours later, she called a reporter to say that the city would conduct its own formal audit.

Several aldermen said they were unaware of the practice before receiving an email from Willard on Tuesday notifying them that he was suspending it.

“It’s one of those things where you find out about it and you want to know more,” said Alderman Barbara Shaw, who is on the Public Safety, Health, and Traffic Committee. “You want to know just the basics of when it started, who started it, why, and who gave the authority — just the basics. I don’t know if it calls for a major investigation.”

The issue of chief days arose after a lawyer representing Amanda Rogers, who has accused two police officers of using their positions of power to coerce her into sex, sent the city a notice of intent to sue.

In his letter, attorney Olivier Sakellarios wrote that then-undercover officer Darren Murphy was having sexual intercourse with Rogers on chief days he was awarded.

Willard fired Murphy and Aaron Brown, the other officer Rogers accused, earlier this year. They are now under criminal investigation.

Labor Public Safety Local and County Government Manchester

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