EDITORIAL: Selectmen Might be Surprised by What They could Learn
For many, many years Groton’s police department lacked the confidence of the community. Earlier departments’ actions regularly left residents shaking their heads in dismay. But, under the leadership of Donald Palma, the Groton Police department has been thoroughly transformed.
Traditionally, police forces are secretive, inward-looking organizations. But, because police have so many links to the community, Chief Palma realized that these relationships could be leveraged for positive change rather than being seen as a burden to be ‘managed.’ He saw an opportunity to improve the police department by becoming a catalyst for positive community cooperation, while simultaneously improving the mission, morale and functioning of the department.
Ironically, while Chief Palma was quietly leading fundamental cooperative change, our divided Board of Selectmen was defending the status quo, supporting the Town Manager no matter what he did, and was waging personal political battles. All this infighting continued while three members of the board were unable or unwilling to see the gathering financial storm.
Sometimes leadership arises from unexpected places. While Selectmen and the Town Manager were busy doing battle, Chief Palma became the primary leader for cooperative change within our government and among residents. He accomplished this by actively developing and seeking relationships based on trust, by reaching out to organizations and groups who normally did not have regular business with the police and by finding ways to serve those who did.
By his example, he showed that Groton’s law enforcement professionals are also committed to the greater good of the town. Even though Chief Palma is only responsible for the Police Department, his influence, vision and example spread far beyond his department and paid huge dividends for Groton.
Among many other initiatives, his close personal relationship with Fire Chief McCurdy has revolutionized cooperation between two departments that used to be entirely separate fiefdoms.
As renegotiation of Chief Palma’s contract gets down to the wire, it might be easy for Selectmen to get stuck focusing on a false economy, on insisting that the Chief’s contract increase be limited to a narrow range, perhaps trying to right the ‘wrong’ of the Town Manager’s having received an overly generous contract.
In our view, losing the benefit of Chief Palma’s services would be a huge blow to the overall welfare of this town. He deserves to be amply rewarded for his outstanding leadership of the police department and for developing cooperative relationships to improve the functioning of town government as a whole.
If Selectmen can step back and understand what he has accomplished, coming up with a fair contract will be easy. By the time this editorial is published, we hope Selectmen have shown the wisdom to secure a renewed contract for Donald Palma. If they have not, there will be little time remaining as the Chief’s contract expires at the end of this month.
And, by the way, when his contract is renewed, Selectmen and the Town Manager might consider paying close attention to his leadership style, methods and philosophy. They might be surprised by what they could learn.