Officials say a former Newton Police employee shut down the department’s site over a pay dispute


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“Chief Carmichael and I are committed to transparency, accountability and a full investigation into what happened,” the mayor said.

A screenshot of the Newton Police Department website appeared on July 5, 2022. The former Newton Police Department’s longtime chief information officer shut down the police website for more a week amid a pay dispute in early summer, according to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller. Boston Globe Photo Import

Newton officials launched an investigation after a city employee allegedly used the Newton Police Department website to resolve a pay dispute.

Steven Smith, 73, a longtime former chief information officer, blocked the department’s website for days in June and July, according to The Boston Globe.

According to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, it was an attempt to receive $137,000 in accrued time off that Smith believed he owed, the newspaper reported.

During the closing of the website, a message was displayed instead.

“THIS SITE HAS NO TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES.” read the text at the top of the screen in capital, red letters.

“NEWTONPOLICE.COM has provided Newton residents with information for the past twenty years at no cost to the City. Please ask Mayor Fuller to have this site restored,” reads the rest of the page.

The city’s former official website, newtonpolice.com, is owned by Smith and so he controls who can edit and access the website, according to the World. He has yet to turn those clearances over to Newton officials, the newspaper reported.

The city has since created a new police department website, which serves as a key resource for emergencies and current affairs. The newtonpolice.com site is no longer active, according to the World.

Smith informed the city that he was leaving his position with the police department’s IT team in March. He then, according to Fuller, asked the city to reimburse him for the compensation time.

The city refused, citing a policy that does not allow non-union workers to bank more than 40 hours. There is an exception if the mayor’s office authorizes it, but Fuller said the city has no record of granting Smith that authorization, according to the World.

Smith objects to this point and asserts that his intentions were clear.

“Every action I have taken in my role was done with the approval and authorization of the then Newton Police Chief. I am discouraged by the city’s portrayal of the facts in this case. I will continue to work with the city to resolve any outstanding issues,” Smith told the newspaper.

Smith’s attorney, Timothy Burke, wrote in a letter to Newton City attorney Alissa Giuliani that permission for Smith’s compensation time was granted both in writing and verbally by a chief of Newton’s font, although the letter does not name which one.

In his position as IT director at Newton, which he held from August 2004 to early April this year, Smith earned more than $150,000 last year. In his new position with the Massachusetts Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, he will earn $165,000 a year, according to the newspaper.

The Massachusetts Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission or POST was created in 2020 under a state police reform bill and works to certify officers and possibly investigate on allegations of misconduct.

After the Worldfollowing a request for documents, Fuller announced that the city was investigating Smith.

“Both [Police Chief John Carmichael] and I am troubled by what we discovered within the Newton Police Department’s IT function,” Fuller said in a statement.

A June 27 email, written by Carmichael and sent to colleagues, including Fuller, said. “I believe it may be appropriate to notify the Legal Department and consider informing POST of this behavior by Mr. Smith. I am sure that this conduct is not in the best interest and the standards required by POST.

POST Commission Executive Director Enrique Zuniga said POST conducted a thorough background and reference check before hiring Smith.

“The current allegations are very different from what we heard from Newton officials during the hiring process a few months ago,” Zuniga said in a statement to the World. “POST does not comment on unresolved and unrelated personnel issues involving the prior employment of its staff members, and we have heard nothing that merits a response from the POST Commission.”

The city’s review of the police website prompted broader questions about police department protocols, including the use of badges; cruisers, unmarked vehicles and take-along vehicles; and police lights, according to the World.

“Chief Carmichael and I are committed to transparency, accountability and a full investigation into what happened,” Fuller said.



Boston

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