Monday, May 27, 2024

Police commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr., left, prepares for a press conference April 16, 2018, at Cambridge police headquarters. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The city manager quietly renegotiated the police commissioner’s contract late last year – after a complaint against him was filed with the Police Review & Advisory Board and the ACLU found he took an action that “appears to raise serious free speech issues.”

City Manager Louis A. DePasquale refused Monday to say when or why the renegotiations began, claiming it was a “personnel matter.” Police commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. began a three-year contract with a starting annual salary of $210,125 on Aug. 21, 2017, that was set to end August 2020. 

Bard’s new contract was signed Dec. 1, updated since a version of his contract available only around a month earlier at the end of October.

The complaint against Bard was filed between those dates, on Nov. 19.

What’s in the contract

Bard’s new contract adds 15 months to his employment term, which would bring his time in Cambridge to Nov. 30, 2021, according to city human resources director Sheila Keady Rawson. It also adds what she called an educational stipend, which “are available to all sworn police officers who meet the requirements,” Keady Rawson said.

As of December, Bard has been earning an annual salary of $230,575 and getting additional stipend payments equal to 20 percent of Bard’s weekly base pay compensation “in recognition of Bard’s level of education.” In January, he got a lump sum payment of $44,691.15 to make up for missing out on those so-called “Quinn bill” stipends since his hiring.

The contract suggests why the renegotiations began: to “induce the employee to remain in such employment for the specific term; ensure the employee’s morale and peace of mind by providing him with job security; and promote and foster trust, loyalty, honesty and integrity between the city and the employee.”

Why a complaint against Bard

The complaint against Bard stemmed from a vote he took Nov. 7 as a member of the License Commission, when he found two business owners guilty of crimes of threats and intimidation of fire inspectors – even after those city officials said they took one business owner’s comments to mean they would face job complaints and “that we would get in trouble for being wrong and harassing her.”

Bard – who is on the License Commission because of his role leading a 316-person force with a $55.2 million budget – took votes against the business owners, Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich of the bar UpperWest, on charges that were “inapplicable” and that they “cannot be found to have violated,” according to a 15-page amicus brief filed by the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union for the business owners’ appeal before the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

The hearing before the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission is scheduled for April 9 in Boston.

Strange judgment at License Commission

Bourqin

The charges that were filed “are all criminal statutes that do not purport to impose civil liability in a proceeding where decisions are made without proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This raises a separate, important question as to whether any such charges can be sustained,” wrote Ruth Bourquin, senior and managing attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes room for all speech but “true threats,” in which the speaker makes a “serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence,” Bourquin notes in her memorandum, citing precedents from 2003 and 1968 – yet Bard voted to find guilt on the charges even after hearing the fire inspectors say they knew the business owners were not making “a physical threat.”

The fire inspectors testified prominently that the business owners had filmed the encounter, yet like the other commissioners, Bard never asked to see the video before passing judgment.

Bard twice refused to explain his vote Nov. 7 at the scene of the License Commission hearing, deferring by saying to call his office to set up an appointment. When his office was contacted the next day for an appointment, the response instead came from Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police, who said Bard would not reply – that the police commissioner would talk about License Commission issues only at the commission hearings.

Police review board meets soon

The Police Review & Advisory Board was asked to explore Bard’s refusal to answer questions and how his example might affect police enforcement of nonviolent threats.

PRAB, after rejecting authority over Bard because of lack of jurisdiction – which it has refused to explain – has been given time by the office of state Attorney General Maura Healey to address a Cambridge Day complaint about its finding and the process behind it, saying it hopes “the parties involved can use the additional time to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.” That meeting is at 6 p.m. Wednesday. A second complaint has been filed by the owners of UpperWest.

The police department referred questions on Bard’s new contract to Keady Rawson’s department.

Craig Kelley, the city councillor who leads that body’s Public Safety Committee, noted that the city manager has authority to manage staff – including hiring and contract negotiations – without council approval, and no information about the contract had been shared with the council.