The Town of Marion does not want to lose Police Lieutenant Richard Nighelli and decided the best way not to is to make him Chief of Police.
“He’s been with us for 17 years, he could have left us, but he didn’t,” said Board of Selectman Chairperson Randy Parker after the board interviewed Nighelli for the job on May 13.
With three options following the interview, the board elected not to open the job posting to outside candidates – Nighelli was the only internal candidate – or take time to contemplate the choice. Parker and selectmen Norm Hills and John Waterman voted unanimously to authorize Town Administrator Jay McGrail to offer Nighelli the job pending successful contract negotiations.
Nighelli will replace retiring Chief of Police John B. Garcia, whom McGrail said supports Nighelli’s candidacy “unequivocally.”
It was Nighelli’s second time candidating for the position, and Parker made note of the fact in his introductory comments.
“Three years ago, you sat in the same position and we didn’t give you the job. I’m so glad you stayed with us,” Parker told Nighelli before he, Hills, Waterman and McGrail peppered the candidate with a wide array of questions.
Hills asked Nighelli what are the primary law-enforcement issues in Marion.
“Probably fraud. We have a large elderly population here, and weekly we’re getting calls on scams and frauds so I would definitely say frauds,” said Nighelli. “We’ve had situations in town where someone may call someone elderly and pretend to be their grandson, and they’re sending thousands of dollars overseas somewhere. It’s very difficult for law enforcement, we just don’t have the resources to track all that and sometimes the people could be out of that money. We need to educate our senior population, but that’s one of the biggest problems we have here is frauds.”
Thanks to Garcia’s initiative of “Coffee with the Cop” over at the Council on Aging, Nighelli has a head start on a strong relationship with the town’s senior citizens.
“The chief and I have been over there several times to talk to the seniors about different issues. We talk about everything from speeding to fraud to pot holes,” said Nighelli. “It’s good for us to get out there to see what the real-world problems that they’re having, and it’s good for them to interact with us.”
Nighelli plans to involve more officers in Coffee with the Cop but also expand on efforts to reach out to students in the schools.
“School presents some challenges, we’re not in the schools all the time,” said Nighelli. “We don’t have a full-time school resource officer, we have a school liaison officer that responds to the school occasionally. I don’t know if the schools need a school resource officer. … We have officers that go into the school, and occasionally we’ll have lunch with the students.”
At the root of the job, said Nighelli, are problem-solving skills.
He told the board that it’s incumbent upon every police officer to see problems and have solutions for those problems so his years of experience in the basics of being an officer are what preparing him best to be a chief of police.
Asked by Parker how he expects the town to support him as a chief of police, Nighelli said in collaboration, that it will be most successful coming from both sides, “between myself and town officials.”
At Waterman’s request, Nighelli summarized the Police Department’s structure and then discussed his theory on handling internal conflict.
“I guess, human nature, there’s always going to be some challenges with resistance to change, and I think if you’re a strong leader, you have strong communication skills … you show some empathy, I think you can get through any challenge by talking it out,” said Nighelli. “I mentioned before about collaborating. It’s not just my way or the highway, but having a good dialogue and bringing all the stakeholders in to come up with a resolution.
“I understand that the top position needs to make difficult decisions, but at the end of the day I understand that there needs to be some collaboration, too, so everyone needs to feel a part of those or you’re not going to be successful.’
Nighelli says the Marion Police Department is rich in team players.
“We’re a 24/7 operation – nights, holidays, weekends, they’ve answered every challenge that they’re faced with,” he said.
Parker addressed the inconvenient question of morale.
“We face that as a police department. Occasionally morale gets low. As law enforcement, sometimes we get beat up in the media and we deal with things here that don’t sit eight with law enforcement,” said Nighelli. “I think one thing is having a sense to bring people in to find out what’s going wrong, and that’s one of my thoughts if I am selected, is I’ll bring the whole department in to find out what’s going right and what’s going wrong. and I’ll ask them two things that they think we can improve on. And also I’d like to ask them what they plan on doing for the community.
“I think all those things will help morale greatly because they feel they have an input to what’s going on. I don’t just want to be a manager, I want to be a leader and I feel that leaders inspire people.”
Waterman asked Nighelli why he wants to become chief of police.
“I wanted to,” he said. “I feel like I have a good working relationship with Mr. McGrail, I feel like I have like I have a good working relationship with the board so that was important to me. It’s also important to me that the board is comfortable with me as well.
“I feel like this is the next progression for me. It’s going to be a nice challenge, I’m always trying to challenge myself. I’m ready to take that challenge and I’m ready to accept that challenge.”
Part of that challenge, said Nighelli, is to participate in the hardest of the work.
“I would never task someone to do something I wouldn’t do myself, so from that standpoint I feel that my management style is respected. I think I’m very direct, I’m not going to sugarcoat anything, and I think people respect that as a manager,” he said.
Anyone who has watched a cop show on television knows there has to be mountains of truth behind the familiar storyline of the stress and emotional taxation that comes with the lifestyle of a police officer.
“You can’t be in that position unless you’re a leader,” said Nighelli. “You to have integrity and not just integrity when everyone’s looking at you, you need to have integrity when no one’s looking at you.”
Nighelli has the support of his family as well as from Garcia, and as a married man with children ages six and eight he understands how critical support systems are.
“Fortunately, (my wife) allows me to follow my dream to be a police officer, she’s the engine that drives our family so I’m appreciative of her. She’s used to me being up at all hours of the night,” said Nighelli, alluding to time served on the regional SWAT team. “If she wasn’t supportive of me putting in for this position, I’d stay a lieutenant.”
McGrail told Nighelli, “You’re kind of a young chief, what’s the plan?”
“My plan,” said Nighelli, “is to have a five-year goal and a 10-year goal for the department. I don’t envision myself going anywhere. I know things happen, sometimes relationships deteriorate so I have an understanding of that. But my plan is this is my second home. I’ve grown to love the community. … I don’t see myself retiring any time soon.
“I’m looking forward to taking this next challenge and hopefully becoming the town’s 11th police chief. … I’m here for the long haul.”
After the board’s decision, McGrail said he would get to work on a contract proposal.
Before the interview began, McGrail explained for the sake of viewers on ORCTV that the seats were arranged to be at least 7 feet apart and that he and all the participants entered the meeting room wearing masks and would put them back on when leaving their chairs.
By Mick Colageo