I would like to take the opportunity this week to address some of the questions that have been raised recently relating to the Town’s “round-about” trial as well as the judgment that resolved the lawsuit against the Police Department
First the round-about trial: The origin of the concept stems from a study of the intersection by a transportation engineering firm hired by the Town as part of a “complete streets” grant funded study. This effort aims to make our travel ways more pedestrian and biker friendly while still allowing for vehicles to navigate through the community efficiently. The Downtown Improvement Committee, (meeting minutes of the past two years are available at the Town Clerk’s Office or on the Town web site), requested the trial. The concept of a small round-about was developed in an effort to slow traffic down and address pedestrian crossings and various turning movement concerns, especially to/from Bennett Street. The trial is just that – a temporary test to see if a round-about can succeed in slowing traffic down by requiring all vehicles to proceed after yielding to vehicles already in the circle.
The temporary layout lacks some of the elements a permanent installation would have, notably curbing that would better direct vehicles into a slow circular pattern. This is particularly evident with the east bound traffic on Bridge Street as the trial layout is not forcing these vehicles to slow down (though better adherence to the posted speed limit on Bridge would be a big help!) The rule of yielding to vehicles already in the circle is not always being followed, causing confusion and conflicts.
Numerous comments have been received via emails and phone calls. This is helpful information to have and folks are encouraged to continue to give feedback to the Town. So far, the majority of comments express dissatisfaction with the round- about, however, there are many positive comments as well. The whole intent of a trial is to generate this kind of constructive feedback. For those who have done this in a respectful and reasoned voice, thank you. The trial is scheduled to continue through June 8. The Selectmen will await an analysis of the trial including a tabulation of public comments before discussing at a future meeting whether to proceed with a permanent installation. If a decision to move forward with a permanent installation is made, the construction would need to await funding, most likely over a year away.
I’d also like to take the opportunity to address some of the concerns regarding the recent agreement to utilize an offer of judgment to resolve the lawsuit against the Police Department, and to take the opportunity to re-emphasize Manchester-by-the-Sea’s commitment to providing a safe and tolerant work environment for all of its employees.
When the allegations were brought to the Town’s attention more than three years ago, they were deeply troubling and concerning. There were two goals in addressing Ms. Costa’s allegations: first, to investigate the claims, and, if necessary, to take immediate corrective action against those parties responsible; second, to take measures to ensure not only that this wouldn’t happen again, but that there was a change in the culture at the Department to reflect Manchester-by-the-Sea’s commitment to tolerance and diversity.
In the immediate aftermath of these allegations, the Town hired an independent third party, an attorney, to conduct a thorough investigation and to make disciplinary recommendations. In this case, the investigator’s recommendation to the Town was to suspend the responsible parties. The Town followed these recommendations, and implemented this punishment.
There was concern raised regarding the “secret recording” of a conversation with the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff never acknowledged that the voice on the recording was hers. The party who recorded the Plaintiff denied that he had done so secretly. Nonetheless, the Town turned over all the information it had about these allegations to the Essex County District Attorney’s Office, which reviewed the evidence, and declined to prosecute the case criminally. In order to resolve the civil aspect of the case as expeditiously as possible, our insurance carrier opted to pay $15,000.
To reiterate, what happened in our Police Department is deeply troubling. Once the Town learned that there was validity to the allegations, we were committed to making sure this would not happen again. To that end, the Department made several systemic changes. First, there was mandatory sexual harassment training for all Department employees. Second, our new police Chief, Edward Conley focused on professionalizing the police department including achieving accreditation. Before coming to Manchester, Chief Conley headed the Internal Affairs Division of the Chelsea Police Department, where he had demonstrated a commitment to ensuring a safe and tolerant workplace for all employees, free from harassment and discrimination of any kind.
Chief Conley’s commitment to inclusion and diversity is reflected in the substantial changes he has made to the hiring process, which has become more in-depth with a skills-based focus. This process has resulted in the recent hiring of two extremely qualified female officers, both of whom rose to the top of the 45-person applicant pool.
We are fortunate to have an excellent insurance carrier who worked closely with us during this case and covered all costs. While a payout of this magnitude can cause our premium to increase, the carrier takes a multi-year look at claims vs premiums paid. Given that this is our first time with a claim of this nature with no other liability claims in the hopper, we should not experience too large a premium increase come next year.
In sum, in holding the offending officers accountable, in requiring training on how to create a more inclusive, tolerant atmosphere, in bringing new leadership to the Department, and in revamping its hiring process, Manchester-by-the-Sea has taken strides to right the wrongs of the harassment that occurred more than three years ago. We are confident these measures have been effective.