EDITORIAL: Deal with police chief allows city to move ahead

EDITORIAL: Deal with police chief allows city to move ahead

While the retirement agreement reached between the city and Meriden Police Chief Jeffry Cossette did not enjoy unanimous support on the City Council (the vote was 8-2, with two councilors absent), it at least defines an orderly transition process and allows plenty of time to find and hire Cossette’s replacement.

How and when the chief would retire have long been in question, and Mayor Kevin Scarpati’s unusual effort last year to broker an arrangement with Cossette and Deputy Chief Tim Topulos — a plan that was rejected by the council — only added to the confusion.

Under Scarpati’s plan, Cossette and Topulos would have retired and Cossette’s other deputy chief, Mark Walerysiak, would have been promoted to acting chief. However, Walerysiak, thought to be a top choice as Cossette’s successor, left the department to become the director of security for the Connecticut Lottery.

“Scarpati had good intentions,” this newspaper editorialized at the time, “but he overstepped his authority ...” The matter should have been handled by the city manager and the City Council, we wrote.

That has now been done, and it’s for the best. The city can finally move ahead.

Under the new agreement, Cossette will officially retire Wednesday but will continue as interim chief through June 2020, during which time he will receive his current salary of $132,815 plus pension payments as a retiree. Under the contract he is also entitled to five weeks of vacation and 15 days of sick time and compensation for any unused vacation time, but not for unused sick time. The city will also provide Cossette with a vehicle for business and personal use.

Cossette had proposed a similar agreement to the city in 2010, but then-City Manager Lawrence Kendzior said the idea “would set a bad precedent.”

“It’s not setting a precedent,” current City Manager Tim Coon said. “It’s a precedent that already exists.” Such a Deferred Retirement Option Plan may be unusual, he said, but it is “not unheard of.”

It’s no secret that there has been friction between Cossette and some City Councilors, notably last year when Cossette, facing a $250,000 cut to his budget prompted by a citywide referendum, announced that he would therefore eliminate the Neighborhood Initiative Unit and three school resource officers.

Then Scarpati presented his plan to reduce the MPD budget cut, provided that Cossette and Topulos would retire by October. When that idea was rejected by the City Council, Cossette proceeded to squabble with the council over additional cuts to his budget.

There was also the recent squabble over funding for the second deputy chief position.

Be that as it may, the new agreement at least provides certainty as to who will retire, and when.

As for who the next chief will be, Coon said the city plans to conduct a nationwide search.

“We’d like to look nationwide,” Coon said, “but you never know; you might find the person you’re looking for right in your own backyard.”

The arrangement now gives the city the opportunity to explore that possibility and put the best foot forward in finding a replacement. That’s important, because it’s one of the most significant positions in any municipality.