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Cop mired in Hull chief flap promoted to 2nd in charge

The Patriot Ledger

HULL - Hull selectmen have appointed Sgt. Richard Billings, who was their initial choice for acting chief, as the police department's interim second in command.

Selectmen voted 4-0 vote to appoint Billings as acting captain after interviewing Billings, Sgt. Joseph Lucas and Sgt. Robert Sawtelle.

Leonard Hersch did not attend the meeting.

After the interviews, Acting Police Chief Donald DiMarzio recommended having all three candidates fill the acting captain position for periods of 45 days or more until the position is filled permanently.

Pitching his idea, DiMarzio noted that selectmen asked each candidate what he would do to keep young talent in the department. Many good officers have left, selectmen said, because there is little room for upward advancement.

Lucas, a sergeant for 24 years, said this opening is his first opportunity for a promotion since earning his sergeant's stripes.

DiMarzio said giving each a shot would be a good way to offer access to promotion.

''I would have liked to have seen all three get a chance,'' DiMarzio said. ''I can't think of any better way for them to see what it's like than hands-on experience.''

Selectmen said they thought the idea was a good one and that all of the candidates were excellent, but opted to promote Billings.

''The idea has a lot of value,'' said selectmen Chairman John Reilly Jr., ''but we thought Sgt. Billings was qualified for the chief's position and we feel he is more than qualified for the captain's position.''

Because each of the candidates was well suited for advancement, selectmen said they want DiMarzio and Billings to talk with Town Manager Christopher McCabe about the possibility of filling a lieutenant's position in the department that has long been unfilled for budget reasons.

Billings' appointment as acting captain comes after months of discussion over leadership in the department following the resignation of former Police Chief Donal Brooker in November. A permanent chief is expected to be appoint in June or July.

Selectmen appointed Billings as acting chief in November despite DiMarzio's argument that Civil Service rules required he be appointed unless he did not want the job or was unqualified.

Following the appointment, selectmen sent a letter to the state Human Resources Division, the agency that oversees personnel in Civil Service jobs, outlining reasons why the board did not think DiMarzio was qualified.

The agency rejected those reasons in December and required the board promote DiMarzio.

Selectmen then sent a second letter asking the agency to reconsider the choice and clarifying its reasons for why DiMarzio is unqualified.

Last week the agency again rejected the board's reasons and selectmen appointed DiMarzio acting chief.

Sources within the department have said the atmosphere has been tense while the leadship roles have been in flux. Billings could not be reached immediately for comment, but DiMarzio said he hopes the animosity is behind them.

''I'll do my best to see that (Billings) is given a fair shake,'' DiMarzio said.

Copyright 2004 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Wednesday, March 17, 2004
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