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Meriden police chief to retire but continue in interim role

Meriden police chief to retire but continue in interim role

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MERIDEN — Under an agreement approved by the City Council this week, Police Chief Jeffry Cossette will retire effective Aug. 1 and continue working as chief through June 2020.

City officials say the plan will give the city enough time to find and train a successor for Cossette, 58, who has been with the department for nearly 40 years and became chief in 2005.

“We need to plan going forward and to do that have to have a clear path as far as when the chief is going to retire,” said Republican Councilor Dan Brunet, the council’s Minority Leader. “Obviously there’s been speculation about (Cossette) retiring for a few years now and at some point, you have to have a definitive answer and this is the best way to achieve that.”

Under the agreement, Cossette will retire Aug. 1 and then continue earning his current salary as interim chief through July 1, 2020, while also collecting his pension, councilors said. The city was unable to provide a copy of the contract Tuesday.

Majority Leader David Lowell said having Cossette stay on as interim chief for 11 months won’t cost more money than having an internal or external candidate replace him as interim. “We are budgeted for and require a police chief, so we would pay for one anyway,” he said.

Cossette said he didn’t plan to retire this early but feels that the succession plan will allow for an orderly transition. He added this type of deferred retirement agreement in which a retired police chief agrees to stay on until a successor is in place isn’t uncommon in Connecticut and other parts of the country. 

“I think it's a fair agreement,” Cossette said in an interview. “I think it's a good agreement for both the city and myself.”  

The council voted 8-2 to approve the agreement Monday after discussing it in an executive session. Democrats Bruce Fontanella and Sonya Jelks voted in opposition. Voting in favor was Republican Dan Brunet, Democrats David Lowell, Brian Daniels, Michael Cardona, Cathy Battista, and We the People councilors Walter Shamock and Joseph Carabetta III. 

Fontanella objected to the agreement allowing Cossette to “double dip” by collecting a post-retirement pension and also continuing to earn a salary. He argued that it sets a bad precedent and may encourage other department heads to pursue a similar deal down the road. Cossette’s exact salary figure and pension payment amounts weren’t available Tuesday. 

“It doesn’t project a good image to the city,” Fontanella said of allowing an employee to collect a pension and salary at the same time. He also contended that 11 months is more time than the city needs to find and hire a successor. 

City Manager Tim Coon, who will be responsible for hiring a new police chief, was not in the office to comment Tuesday.

Lowell said he doesn’t have preference over whether the city hires internally or externally, adding that he wants to see the best candidate hired. 

Cossette, who won’t play a major role in hiring a new chief, prefers the city hire someone already in the department because the city has had a couple of “bad experiences” in hiring chiefs from the outside in the past. 

In 2017, Cossette promoted department veteran Mark Walyersiak to a newly created deputy chief position with the idea that Cossette could groom Walyersiak, a Meriden native, to one day succeed him. Walersiak, however, left the department in January to become the director of security for the Connecticut Lottery.

Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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