Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Council names Kenny police chief, but Republicans abstain

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
November 22, 2006

VERNON - The Town Council approved the selection of Capt. James L. Kenny to be the town's next police chief, but not before a heated discussion about the process used to select him.

By a 5-0 vote, with five abstentions, the council approved the hiring of Kenny, 46, who will assume command of the police department on Jan. 5, following the retirement of Chief Rudolf M. Rossmy.

But five Republican council members abstained from the vote, saying they believed the process used by Mayor Ellen L. Marmer to hire Kenny was improper.

Democrats Bill Fox, Marie A. Herbst, Mary A. Oliver, Pauline A. Schaefer, and Connie Simon voted to approve Kenny's hiring.

The town's charter stipulates that the mayor shall make a hiring recommendation to the Town Council, using a list of at least three candidates who applied for the job and went through an interview process conducted by various town officials.

The soon-to-be vacant chief's position was advertised internally and only two officers, Kenny and Lt. Brian Smith, a 25-year veteran of the department, applied.

And Marmer recommended the hiring of Kenny to the Town Council.

But while they said that Kenny's qualifications were not in question, several Republican council members said they felt left out of the process.

"This isn't about the qualifications of the individual," Republican Daniel E. Anderson said to Marmer. "This is about having you conduct your own private process without involving others. It's about your closed-door antics."

Republican Christy N. Vale said she took exception to a letter from Marmer to Kenny, saying that he had been appointed to the chief's position, before the Town Council had been given a chance to act.

Vale said she was also concerned that some potential candidates might have forgone applying for the vacant captain's position earlier this year - which resulted in Kenny's hiring - not realizing that the town was using that process to also look for a new chief.

"Whether it's true or false, that perception is out there," Vale said. "We are coming close to trampling the process and when we do that, we put ourselves in jeopardy."

But the Republican protests angered Marmer, who accused the other side of conducting a "political witch hunt."

"I guess the Town Council has decided they would like to unanimously be mayor," Marmer said. "I have done things according to the charter. There is no necessity to include any council members in the process based on the charter."

Following the debate, which took more than an hour, the council took its vote with Republicans Anderson, Vale, Bill F. Campbell, Jason L. McCoy, and Brian R. Motola abstaining.

Republican Mark S. Etre was absent from the vote and Republican Daniel A. Champagne, a town police officer, sat out of the proceedings.

Following the vote, Kenny received unanimous applause from the Town Council and was personally congratulated by Marmer and each Town Council member.

Saying he heard rumors that the vote on his hiring could be contentious, Kenny said he had no problems with the Republicans' concerns and looked forward to leading the 51-member department.

"They have to make sure they are picking the right person and I take none of this personally," Kenny said. ""They all wished me well. The council here is very much in support of me."

Kenny, of South Windsor, was sworn in as police captain in late May after spending nearly 21 years with the Glastonbury police department.

As captain, Kenny serves as Rossmy's "right-hand-man," overseeing day-to-day operations, the department's purchasing policy, internal investigations, and serving as acting chief when necessary.

Kenny will earn an annual salary of $93,558 as chief.

Moments after Kenny's appointment to the chief's post, the Town Council voted 10-0 to appoint Newington police Lt. Stephen M. Clark to serve as the town's next police captain. Clark, who will earn a salary of $80,620, will take over as captain on Jan. 5, the same day Kenny is elevated to chief.

A 21-year-veteran of the Newington department, Clark said the Vernon Police Department has a good reputation in the law enforcement community and he was looking forward to working with Kenny and the rest of the department.

©Journal Inquirer 2006