To The Daily Sun,
I would like to start this letter commending Chief Mark Lewandowski of the Belmont Police Department on his service of 40 years to the town. I have the highest respect for Mark and he has done an incredible job as chief of police. He has an amazing group of professional men and women on the force, I am sure he is very proud of the job that they do under his leadership. I have known Mark for over 30 years and consider him a friend. I also know two of the three members on the Board of Selectmen. Both Ruth Mooney and Jon Pike have done an admirable job for the town and I certainly respect them for it. Their job is often a thankless job and I commend them for their public service.
With that said, I was deeply disturbed to read in the paper that the chief had signed a five-year contract that now leaves one of the busiest police departments in the county with a part-time police chief. To my knowledge, the residents and taxpayers had no say in this decision. It is my opinion that this is wrong on several issues.
First and foremost is the devastating effect on morale that these types of moves make on a department. There is a trend in some New Hampshire communities to change the status of a full-time chief to “part-time” after he or she has decided to retire. I am familiar with one New Hampshire city that did this and the morale of the department suffered and still suffers to this day. The Belmont Police Department has great middle managers and superb command staff that deserve the chance to move up in rank. This decision no doubt will cause unintended consequences that perhaps the selectmen did not consider. Morale, recruitment, stagnation and employee retention are just a few.
While I have not read the contract, a five-year contract with automatic pay raises is hard to justify. It was reported that there are automatic raises every year. Any raises should be merit based and not automatically given. This could pose a problem during union negotiations as other contracts are always scrutinized by others looking for better contracts.
The residents also must know that the chief is only able to work 32 hours per week. Anymore than that he would be in violation of New Hampshire laws and retirement rules. Presumably he will have all those hours by the weekend. If there was a serious incident in Belmont our chief would not be able to respond. That would leave the second in command in charge. What if that person was on vacation or out of state? I think you see where this is going.
Belmont needs a full-time police chief, plain and simple. We have a very busy town and some big city issues at times. Chief Lewandowski has done an exceptional job and I would love to see him as our police chief for the next five years, just not as a part-time employee. Mark, for your department and community, please reconsider your decision.