Anti-nepotism policy? That’s up to Meriden City Council
MERIDEN — City officials are considering “anti-nepotism provisions” for the Police Department as recommended by attorney Thomas V. Daily in his report.
Daily, of the Hartford firm Reid and Riege P.C., released his report in late May, showing that his research found little to substantiate that Officer Evan Cossette had engaged in a pattern of excessive force. It also stated that the department did not allow Cossette to go mostly unpunished because he is the son of Chief Jeffry Cossette, as two officers had claimedState and federal grand jury investigations continue.
Despite Daily’s findings that there was not enough evidence to prove improper nepotism, favoritism or disparate treatment, he concluded that some may assume special treatment for family members of decision makers.
“Whenever discipline or reward is to be given to a family member by a decision maker such as the chief or his designee, there is also always the possibility of at least the appearance of impropriety and people questioning that decision,” wrote Daily, who has been unavailable for comment since issuing his report.
He went on to write that, if the city does not adopt an anti-nepotism policy, then it may want to consider whether disciplinary decisions or investigations should be handled by another agency when they deal with a family member in the department.
The process and possible policy, City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said, is being reviewed and would go to the City Council for approval. The proposed policy change would likely include preventing the city from hiring a close relative of any member of the Police Department, Kendzior said.
“The policy to prohibit the hiring of relatives of current police officers is being looked at and reviewed by city staff and our labor attorney,” Kendzior said. “When we have decided on the specifics of a proposal, it will be submitted to the City Council for approval.”
Family members already working within the department would be allowed to remain on the force.
Daily’s investigation came after officers Donald Huston and Brian Sullivan lodged allegations in a letter to Kendzior. Several internal affairs complaints were then filed against Huston and Sullivan claiming untruthfulness. Detective Lt. Mark Walerysiak, who conducted the internal affairs probes, found that the two officers violated several departmental policies by making false accusations.
Chief Cossette compared the situation to a father coaching his son in a sport, stating that even if the son excelled, it would be likely that another parent would still question whether the son was playing only because his father is a coach.
“It’s a good practice to separate direct supervision of people you’re related to,” Cossette said, noting that the recently negotiated police union contract includes a family provision.
The contract now prevents employees from supervising immediate relatives on the same shift. In addition to Evan and Jeffry Cossette, there are multiple members of other families working for the department, as there have been in the past, Chief Cossette said.
“There’s family in every profession that exists,” Cossette said. “Some people call it tradition, like I do. And if there’s something improper as far as people getting different positions within an organization, that would be considered nepotism, but that doesn’t occur here.”
Cossette added that if a policy or provision is drafted, it should include all of the city unions and departments, not just the Police Department.
City Council Majority Leader Brian Daniels said that he was aware as soon as the report came out that Kendzior and city Personnel Director Caroline Beitman would consider any recommendations carefully. Daniels added that it would also be looked into by the council.
Any provision drawn up by city officials should be considered from all perspectives, City Councilor Bob Williams said. Williams added that many families have children following in the professional footsteps of parents or relatives and he would hate to limit that in the city. He added that if family members are working in the same department, there would need to be a distinct separation.
“From what I’m seeing at the Meriden Police Department, they seem to have that separation in place,” Williams said.
Daily also recommended changes in the Internal Affairs Department, such as “rotating more individuals through the unit for new perspective and new ideas.” He did, however, note that the late Sgt. Leonard Caponigro, an Internal Affairs investigator for 20 years, did an “admirable” job.
The department, not the council, is responsible for any internal affairs changes, Kendzior said. The International Association of Chiefs of Police, Chief Cossette noted, does not recommend term limits, but does suggest good investigative qualities and a good sense of fairness. Cossette said he feels Internal Affairs Department members Walerysiak and Sgt. Darrin McKay possess both qualities, which is why they were assigned to oversee the department following Caponigro’s retirement.
Cossette added that the department recently received Tier I accreditation from the state, which included praise of the Internal Affairs Department.
At the time Daily’s report became public, Kendzior said a rotation would be implemented, but in an email this week he said only that a policy to better ensure that complainants are contacted before a file is closed would be put into practice.
The department, as a result of the Daily report’s recommendation, will send registered letters to members of the public who file IA complaints to make sure attempts to contact them are verified. A log will also be used to keep track of people entering and exiting the department.
With the department still the subject of federal and state investigations, Kendzior said Huston and Sullivan will remain on duty and a decision on a course of action that the city “will or will not pursue” will be made when investigations are complete.
Frank Cannatelli, a lawyer representing Huston and Sullivan, said that was good news and added that he hoped the city would not “jump the gun” before the federal investigation is completed.