After Conflicts, Saybrook Police Board Appoints New Commissioner
The Board of Selectmen (BOS) has appointed a new police commissioner to fill the seat vacated by former Police Commission (PC) vice chair Frank Glowski, who resigned at a charged PC meeting in late March.
Democrat Alfred “Chub” Wilcox will take Glowski’s seat on the commission. Wilcox was appointed at a special April 25 BOS meeting and sworn in afterward by the town clerk.
As for the fact that he’s filling a seat left vacant by a resignation, “I’m disappointed that someone felt a need to resign,” he said. “I’m not concerned that I would feel compelled to do that. I wouldn’t accept the position if I had any anxiety about that for myself.”
At the March 25 PC meeting, Glowski announced his resignation, which he said was in response to a telephone conversation he’d had with Police Chief Michael A. Spera.
Spera, Glowski said, had “talk[ed] to me with aggression and made false accusations, saying that something that I did was 100 percent politically motivated.” Glowski said he felt “outraged,” “upset, sick to my stomach, can’t think straight... just really, really taken aback from this.”
The phone call related to an email Glowski had sent regarding a subcommittee of the PC, he said at the March 25 meeting. That subcommittee has a back story: It was tasked to review the department’s staffing and organizational structure through hiring a consultant.
“The study will answer the question of how many cops do we need and tell us what our structure should look like. It will be [a comprehensive] look at all personnel necessary to perform the functions we do and have to perform” as a police department, Police Chief Michael Spera told the selectmen in August 2018. “I’ve been very clear that no matter what happens, the town has to follow the [study’s] direction.”
Discussions about hiring a firm to conduct an organizational review of the police department had been floated in PC meetings since 2016, eventually resulting in a draft request for qualifications in June 2017 that was provided to the police and dispatchers unions for review.
Glowski was first elected to the PC in November 2017 and in mid-2018 an Organizational Structure and Personnel Staffing subcommittee was formed, made up of the police commissioners, Fortuna, Spera, and the heads of the police and dispatchers’ unions. Based on a review of meeting minutes, it appears that the first subcommittee meeting took place in July 2018.
In August 2018 the PC released a request for proposals for a “review of the organizational structure and staffing of the Department of Police Services” with the stated goal of providing recommendations to the PC. The proposal submission deadline was Oct. 10, 2018. Subcommittee meeting minutes show that proposals were discussed at an Oct. 22 regular PC meeting and a Nov. 13 subcommittee meeting.
The subcommittee voted on Feb. 20, 2019 to invite three vendors to make presentations. According to Glowski, he was concerned when no action was taken; when he discussed those concerns with PC Chairman Carl S. VonDassel, Jr., VonDassel told Glowski that he and Spera had contacted the three companies.
Spera provided this paper with copies of certified letters sent to each of the companies dated March 18, 2019 that assigned each a presentation slot on the evening of Monday, April 22. The letters were signed by Spera.
After the phone call with VonDassel, “I reached out to all three companies,” Glowski said, adding that, according to town bylaws, the vice chair serves as subcommittee chair, giving him authority to do this.
“All three said they hadn’t heard from anyone about coming in [for presentations],” he said. “It had been at least two weeks since we’d voted.”
The date of Glowski’s phone calls to the companies is unclear, as are the dates the companies received the certified letters.
“I arranged for all three [companies] to come in on a particular day to interview,” Glowski continued. He then emailed all the members of the subcommittee with that information, asking them to let him know if they had conflicts.
The call from Spera came almost immediately, according to Glowski.
“The chief called and basically yelled at me: ‘You can’t contact the vendors. Take the email back; we have a letter ready to go to the vendors,’” Glowski said.
According to Spera, Glowski apologized to him and Spera accepted the apology. Glowski said that apology never happened.
“I wish to thank Mr. Glowski for his service during his 16-month tenure on the PC,” Spera said in an email. “While I am still stunned he resigned his elected position, I do accept his apology and agree with him that all involved should move forward.”
Just over two weeks after Glowski resigned, the subcommittee voted down a motion put forth by Fortuna to pursue the police department evaluation, instead choosing to disband the subcommittee. According to meeting minutes, the subcommittee went into executive session prior to the vote, so the reasons for the decision to disband the subcommittee are unclear. VonDassel was unavailable to answer questions.
“I am disappointed that the study did not move forward,” Fortuna said by email. “Personally, I believe the study would have been insightful and likely supportive of our current public safety structure and staffing. Of course, a study of this type could be considered by a future police commission.”
Spera said that he met with Wilcox, provided him with an orientation of the police department, and looks forward to working with him.
VonDassel responded to a request for comment with a text message saying he was busy and would instead issue a statement. That statement read, in part, “The Old Saybrook Police Commission welcomes our new commission member and looks forward to working with him in the future. The PC fully supports our Department of Police Services and will strive to give the department the necessary resources needed to safely and effectively deliver police services to the residents and visitors to our great town.”
Glowski said that, while he doesn’t know Wilcox, he believes his experience will be helpful to the PC.
“Having someone with type of knowledge is important,” he said. “It really isn’t about the budget and the hiring and the firing of people. It’s really about the management of the police chief and the Police Commission.”
Wilcox is a retired attorney whose practice focused on complex litigation. Wilcox and his wife, Marcia Heister Wilcox, moved to Old Saybrook about 2 ½ years ago from Philadelphia, after retiring from their careers as attorneys.
“Initially, [my work] was a lot of securities litigation, anti-trust litigation, contract disputes,” Wilcox said. “One of my cases involved construction of a nuclear power plant and because of that experience, I got involved in litigation involving Three Mile Island for years and years. There were thousands of cases.”
As for his new home and his new town, he said, “We love it.”
“I just thought after being here a couple of years that it was important to give back to the community,” Wilcox explained. “I went over to Town Hall and met with the first selectman and said, ‘I’m interested in volunteering for anything that the town might find me useful at doing.’
“I expressed interest in serving on a commission having to do with the environment or having to do with public safety,” he said.
Per town bylaws, however, Wilcox will face re-election on Nov. 5 for the remainder of Glowski’s term.
If a member of any commission resigns within two years of appointment, his or her replacement is required to stand for re-election for the remaining two years of the term, Fortuna explained.
“He will be on the ballot this fall if he chooses to run and then he will have to run [two years later] for the full four-year term,” he said. In the meantime, Wilcox is a “full member of the commission.”
Wilcox admitted that he’s a little nervous about running.
“I’ve never run for elective office in the past,” he said. “On the other hand, I have no political ambitions, so if I’m not elected, it’s not going to be devastating.”
Becky Coffey contributed
reporting to this story.