WHITMAN – The process governing how constables are appointed is being reviewed by town officials. At issue is the discrepancy between state requirements under MGL Chapter 41 and a relatively informal process that is currently being followed. The Board is expected to revisit the process at a meeting in June.
Whitman resident James Fallon, who has already served as a town constable for six years, appeared before Selectmen prior to the May 7 Town meeting to request his re-appointment to another three-year term.
“I haven’t had any complaints or violations or anything against me,” Fallon told the board, adding he has also gone through the reserve officers academy, in-service requirements and obtained certifications and additional training.
Town Administrator Frank Lynam told the board at the time that Police Chief Scott Benton and Deputy Chief Timothy Hanlon had recommended against Fallon’s reappointment when he submitted his initial request. Neither of them were able to attend the May 7 selectmen’s meeting, held before Town Meeting.
Lynam also researched the process under which constables are appointed.
“There is a significant process involved in the application for constable,” Lynam said of state law governing the office. “The paperwork I have is simply a letter requesting your appointment in the past along with a notice that you have completed the reserve officer academy.”
The statute requires a written application to the appointing authority – in this case the Board of Selectmen – stating reasons desiring the appointment and such information as may be reasonably required by the authority regarding fitness for office.
Benton also pointed out that the Selectmen are the appointing authority.
“We have nothing to do with the process except to provide any professional interactions that we may have had with the applicant any that would be appropriate for the Board to consider in whether or not to appoint or reappoint,” Benton stated Tuesday, May 29.
An application must also include a statement about the moral character of the applicant signed by at least five reputable
citizens of the city or town of residence, at least one of which must be an attorney.
“We have never done that here,” Lynam said.
There are about a half-dozen constables serving the town of Whitman, which should be retaining 25 percent of what constable-generated revenue, Fallon added, saying he wants to pay that to the town.
Lynam told Selectmen there was a representation of a “questionable action” on Fallon’s part in displaying his badge and requiring a person to stay on the scene of a civil incident that “exceeded any authority [he] may hold as a constable.”
That incident – in August 2013 – involved a question about two women involved in a vehicle incident as well as an earlier incident involving a complaint from February at Diamond Fuels in which Fallon allegedly pulled up to a gas pump in the wrong direction. The station manager on duty shut the pump off for that reason and Fallon was said to have pulled out his badge and stated he wanted to refuel.
“That’s something that can be troubling,” Lynam said.
Fallon countered he had been out serving papers on the day of the February incident, and said he wears his badge on a lanyard around his neck on those occasions. The badge was mentioned by the manager of the station and he simply asked if the pump could be turned back on since there were no other customers at the time. He said when another person drove up, he just left.
“At no point did I whip out [the badge] and say, ‘Turn it on, I’m a
constable,’” Fallon said.
Lynam said the investigating officer noted at the time that the clerk had a video of the incident on a cell phone and he observed it noting Fallon “could be clearly seen taking the badge and showing it to her.” There are also incidents that may or may not be involved with Fallon’s actions at Marble Street, including his demand that the manager there give him an unlisted number for a person he wanted to contact, Lynam reported.
“Those things raise a concern,” he said.
Fallon said the Marble Street issue went to court when a harassment complaint was filed against him but argued the complaint stemmed from a single interaction in which he is alleged to have yelled at the person. A harassment complaint must involve three separate interactions, he said, noting a judge did not allow it to go further.
“I don’t even know who this person is,” Fallon told Selectmen he said to the investigating officer. “I’ve never seen this person, I have no knowledge of what she looks like. I could be standing right next to her and not even know it.”
The day the incident allegedly occurred, Fallon said, he and his son were at the White House for an event.
Fallon said the objections centering on incident in 2013 was not brought up when he was last re-appointed in 2015.
Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said that didn’t make sense.
“I think we need to clean up this arrangement,” Kowalski said. “I’m not comfortable voting one way or the other in the form the information is in.”
“That’s the reason I did the research on the constable appointment process, because it appears that we’ve taken a very informal approach,” Lynam said.
“It’s part of the weakness in the system, which prompted me to look at the appointment process.”