Tensions Between Union, Chief Cited

By Patrick Cronin

Herald Sunday, Sunday, November 20, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Herald Sunday and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- While the Hampton Police Association and Hampton Police Chief Bill Wrenn have not always seen eye to eye, the union is wishing him well if he gets the job as the new commissioner of the state Department of Corrections.

"I think we can honestly say that if he gets the job, the association wishes him well in his new career in law enforcement," said Hampton Police Association Attorney Joe McKittrick. "We wish him well and Godspeed."

Gov. John Lynch nominated Wrenn at this past Wednesday's Executive Council meeting to replace current Commissioner Stephen Curry, who has been under fire by correctional workers, who have taken two votes of no confidence in him.

The governor said Wrenn has the managerial experience to unite the workers, stop the infighting and develop a long-term vision for the department.

Ironically, while Curry has had trouble with the state employee's union, so has Wrenn with the Hampton Police Association.

"It's fair to say that we've had our differences with the chief over the years," McKittrick said. "We have strong personalities in the Police Association who are dedicated to law enforcement. And sometimes their ideas clash, but we have always managed to work together over the years."

In the last year, the association has filed nearly a dozen grievances against the town, with the most recent stating there seems to be a double standard in internal investigations between union members and management.

It was denied by the town because it was not a valid grievance under terms of the police contract.

The union also had bumper stickers and T-shirts printed that read, "Hampton Police Department: Too many chiefs and not enough Indians."

After Wrenn wrote a memo to all police officers to point out what he said was misinformation the union had given to its members about what transpired in negotiations, the association filed an unfair labor practice with the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board.

The board ruled in the union's favor, and the town is currently appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.

When asked if Wrenn is the man to smooth relations between workers and management in the Department of Corrections, Hampton Police Association President Steve Henderson said it depends.

"If he goes in there with a clean slate, keeps an open mind and listens to both sides of an issue, he'll do fine," said Henderson.

"Time to time, there (are) going to be disagreements," said Hampton Town Manager James Barrington. "I don't see that as a derogatory statement about (Wrenn's) management style. People working together don't always agree on everything. I can tell you he has always been fair with dealing with other department heads and the staff that works for him."

Wrenn was one of the driving forces in getting a $6 million police station approved by voters, and was also credited with his management of the department's budget, especially this year when he had to make significant cuts, but was able to do so without laying off any employees.

"He is the best police chief I have ever worked with," said Barrington.

The correctional employee union is scheduled to meet with Wrenn this week but have already said it is encouraged with the prospect of him coming on board.

But it's no sure thing that he will get the job.

Executive Councilor Ruth Griffin has said she will vote against Wrenn, while Councilor Debora Pignatelli said she will vote in favor.

The other three members said they are undecided.

Critics of Wrenn say Curry, who was appointed by former Gov. Craig Benson and has only been in the position for 16 months, is doing a good job and deserves more time.

The Executive Council could vote on Wrenn's nomination as early as Dec. 7.