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Stay safe today, and here’s this week’s news:
Week of Jan. 29: Lexington News Roundup
Reported by Sophie Culpepper
- A conversation with Chief McLean: What are his priorities for the department moving forward?
- Chief Equity Officer Martha Duffield has been working in Lexington for over six months now, and she’s been busy. What are her five equity officer goals, and how has she tackled them so far?
- Minuteman High School gets a new superintendent.
- Update on ARPA funds: 1,500 rapid tests ordered by the Town; 126K distributed so far to seven local businesses.
- Weekly COVID-19 update: Local and school COVID-19 cases continue to drop this week.
- Community announcements: LexPride event later today; Town-wide Lunar New Year Virtual Gala on Monday; League of Women Voters holding forum about leaf blower referendum next Friday.
Chief Michael McLean cites communication, professional development as priorities for the department under his leadership
Last week, LexObserver reported that Chief Michael McLean had been selected by Town Manager Jim Malloy to serve as the Town’s new permanent Police Chief after a months-long nationwide search. This week, we hear from Chief McLean, who served as Interim Chief for the eight months prior to his permanent appointment, about his approach to policing and priorities for the department moving forward.
- “For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a police officer”: Michael McLean is not the first in his family to serve as a police officer; growing up, his father was a police officer in Arlington. “Always seeing my dad in the uniform and coming home and telling stories, how he was able to help somebody who was in need of help or other situations, that’s something I always admired,” he said. “I’ve always considered myself somebody who, for lack of a better word, likes to stick up for the underdog and help people who may not be able to help themselves. So really, for as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a police officer.”
- Community engagement, communication are priorities, but some strides have already been made: Improved community engagement and communication have long been a priority for the department, and will continue to be focal points for McLean moving forward, he said. “The department has always made strong efforts to be part of the community… I just think we have to have something more standard where we’re actively looking to engage the community…we’ve got to get ourselves out there,” he said, citing regular meetings with various groups in town as one possible way to further strengthen ties. “The main goal of community engagement and everything else is to have solid relationships and foundations down. So when something does happen that’s stressful in the community, we’re not meeting people for the first time.”
- To facilitate community feedback, the department is also looking into an app which would allow community members who interact with the police to submit feedback about their interactions and experience, McLean added.
- According to McLean, change is a constant and a necessity in the policing profession: “We’re always looking at our policies and procedures, and being an accredited organization makes us do that self-assessment pretty much constantly and consistently,” he said.
- “I see the Anderson Kreiger report as a starting point..for the LPD in their DEI initiatives,” Lexington Chief Equity Officer Martha Duffield wrote in an email to LexObserver. “Chief McLean and I talk about how DEI isn’t a one-time effort, but continuous effort over time.”
- McLean has found the Anderson Kreiger review process and report very helpful in giving the Department detail-oriented, specific ways to improve, with some suggestions aligning with changes the Department already planned on making, he said: “We were fortunate to get an independent outside agency to…go through all of our policies and procedures. So we looked at that as a way to strengthen what we do…we were able to shore up some areas and really make our policies, procedures and practices that much stronger.”
- “To be honest, working with Chief McLean has been an unexpected bright spot in my role,” Duffield wrote in an email to LexObserver. “I think any DEI officer in a municipality would have anxiety around working with the police, but I have found that Chief McLean has been welcoming to me as a human being and to my role within the town and his department. As a result, we have built a strong relationship where we can share, discuss and even disagree [respectfully] on a variety of personal and professional ideas,” she added. She appreciates that he does not view DEI progress as her responsibility alone; “One thing he has shared in one of our meetings is that DEI isn’t Martha work, but that it’s everyone’s work. He does not view my role as a box to be checked, but that DEI initiatives should be embedded into the way the department operates.”
- McLean also expressed appreciation for Duffield’s involvement in promotional interviews and vetting some promotional questions and new hire questions, in accordance with some of the Anderson Kreiger recommendations. Duffield has also helped the department, and other departments in town, “think outside the box” about where to advertise open positions in order to attract a more diverse candidate pool, he added.
- On a broader level, “in more affluent communities, it is always a challenge to try to hire residents in municipal jobs, and policing is no exception,” McLean added. Duffield agreed: “The cost of housing has exploded, not just in Lexington, but in the surrounding communities as well, so any municipal employee will struggle with finding a place that’s affordable (on a government salary) that’s within a reasonable commuting distance,” she wrote.
- According to the Lexington Housing Assistance Board (LexHAB), 13.5% of town employees do not actually live in Lexington. LexHAB provides a Town Employee Program, but the program has limited space.
- While McLean has not lived in Lexington himself throughout his career serving the town, his father was a Lexington resident for almost 40 years, and his wife’s family has been in Lexington for over 100 years – “So I always had a strong connection to Lexington, and obviously working here for the last…coming up on 27 years, really that bond is strengthened,” he said.
- In a follow-up email, he added that training has been a major focus for the department recently due to its importance to police reform and the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission. “Over the past two years we have made it a point to train our officers in these areas which include de-escalation, Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), Fair and Impartial Policing, Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI), just to name a few,” he wrote. “These areas are also demanded by the community,” he added. Two officers have become state-certified trainers in Fair and Impartial Policing; additionally, the department requested additional funds for these areas of training in the police budget, and they will now be components of the department’s yearly training curriculum, he added.
- In addition to monitoring traffic digitally, the department also now employs a traffic safety officer Monday through Friday, a new position, McLean said, “to specifically conduct traffic enforcement, mostly in places of high accident location, or high traffic volumes.”
- An uptick in domestic violence: A terrible national trend has been present in Lexington, according to McLean: “Unfortunately, a bad byproduct of COVID and having people in their homes for the past few years, we’ve had a really spike in domestic violence,” he said. To protect the privacy of victims, these complaints do not appear on public police logs – but the department has worked to put victims in touch with advocates and social services, he said.
- Get in touch with ideas and questions: McLean encourages community members with questions and concerns to reach out to him directly or get in touch through the website.
- “The [Lexington] community has never been afraid to give input into the way their town government works,” McLean said. “And I value that… It makes it easier for us because we always have a good blueprint on what the community wants, and having that community input just helps us do our job better, and helps [with] making sure that people are satisfied with their service. That’s really our goal.”
- Reactions to McLean’s appointment from a community group: Lexington Residents Reimagining Public Safety (LRRPS), a community group dedicated to that cause, shared a statement responding to Chief McLean’s appointment. “We congratulate Chief Michael McLean on his promotion to Lexington Police Chief, and we are pleased that Town Manager Jim Malloy appointed him due to his commitment to fair and impartial policing, transparency, community engagement, and accountability,” member Sarah Higginbotham wrote in an email to LexObserver. “As Lexington residents committed to the same ideals, we look forward to partnering with Chief McLean over the next months on current public safety issues in Lexington, including a full and meaningful implementation of the recommendations from the Anderson Kreiger report commissioned by the Select Board, enhanced collection and dissemination of policing data, and rollout and implementation of the December 2020 Massachusetts Police Reform Bill and its regulations.” The statement was also signed by members Valerie Overton, Alexis Porras and Tom Shiple.
Chief Equity Officer Martha Duffield delivers six-month update on equity initiatives in town
At Monday evening’s Select Board meeting, Chief Equity Officer Martha Duffield delivered a presentation summarizing progress made on the town’s Racial Equity Plan in her six months as the Town’s first Chief Equity Officer, and outlined steps she is looking to take in the near future.
- Community Compass: “Lexington is a visionary and sustainable community that values and respects all people, history and community assets.”
- Livable community: Providing “an opportunity for all people to participate in community activities and benefit from town services that are affordable, accessible and responsive.”
- Quality services: “That the town delivers quality municipal services, infrastructure and amenities;”
- Fiscal stewardship: Fiscally responsible;
- Thriving local economy. Supporting the local economy, including by partnering with the private sector.
- Increase employment diversity (talent acquisition);
- Improve data collection and transparency;
- Collaborate and support department equity initiatives;
- Strengthen relationships across municipalities;
- Bridge municipal and community equity work.
- Hiring policy: With both of these goals in mind, Duffield worked to create a town-wide diversity hiring policy, in collaboration with the Town’s Human Resources Director and the Senior Management team; the policy is currently being reviewed by the town’s legal counsel, she said. Additionally, she sat down with each department and documented their respective existing hiring processes to ensure these are as equitable as possible moving forward.
- Job descriptions matter: Duffield also reviewed at least 12 job descriptions “for gender bias, job responsibilities and reasonable skills and knowledge.”
- “We tend to have a kind of ‘throw the kitchen sink at them mentality,'” she said. Why does this matter for equity? “That can be really intimidating to future hires, and we might not get the same number of candidates because of that.” For instance, women are statistically less likely to apply for a job they don’t feel 100% qualified for than men – “so whenever we’re adding bullets to our job descriptions, we’re just increasing bias and reducing our applicant pool,” Duffield said.
- Talent acquisition pipeline: Duffield has also worked to expand the number of places where jobs are posted, e.g. on more job boards with cultural affinities, to increase the number of potential candidates who are likely to see job postings.
- As another strategy, she also submitted a proposal to the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) to create a statewide group for municipalities to participate in job fairs together – there is often a minimum number of jobs required for an entity to participate in a job fair, and pooling the number of jobs posted across the MMA could allow all municipalities to participate in a wider range of job fairs.
- Duffield also created a Talent Acquisition Guideline for staff to follow in the hiring process.
- Finally, to reduce process bias in interviews, Duffield attended some interviews herself, including the Police Chief interviews. She also reviewed interview questions for the Deputy Director of Cary Library, and is currently sitting in on those interviews.
- In terms of talent acquisition, Duffield plans to continue expanding and documenting job posting locations, and is considering organizing a group of municipalities to attend job fairs as an interim effort parallel to her proposal to the MMA to establish its own program, depending on the pace of the proposal response.
- Duffield will continue sitting in on some interviews where possible with her schedule, will continue to review interview questions and suggest questions that directly or indirectly address diversity, and will create a hiring process evaluation document. Taking the time to evaluate pros and cons of the job process from a DEI standpoint once it is complete is important, despite the temptation to rush on to the next thing, Duffield said: “We really need to take that minute after to evaluate the work that we’ve done.”
- Being realistic in that evaluation is also crucial. “All the departments have said, we used to get 40-50 job applications, and now we’re getting, like, three to four,” Duffield said. “So we don’t have the same candidate pool that we’ve had before. That’s just what our reality is.”
- Progress made:
- Duffield has worked to compile information about municipal employee demographics based on race and gender, and collaborated with Lexington Public Schools to create a staff identities questionnaire.
- Duffield shared some of her information about local hiring trends, drawing from Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data, which is limited due to being voluntarily provided by employees. This data suggested that BIPOC hires have increased consistently from 2017 to 2021; male and female hires appear to have fluctuated yearly, but male municipal hires almost always appeared to outpace female hires in every year since 2012. EEOC gender data is binary, another limitation, Duffield said, which is why she worked with LPS on creating a new questionnaire. Additionally, this gender data can be heavily shaped by specific departments, e.g. skewing male in years when the Town hires many people in still male-dominated professions such as policing and fire.
- Duffield plans to upload the demographic information from her work last quarter onto the Town website’s equity page. Generally, Duffield observed that some other communities have very interactive public data online, which could be worth funding and emulating in Lexington.
- The survey she worked on with LPS is planned for fall 2022.
- Duffield also hopes to partner with Facilities to get an inventory of gender-inclusive and accessible public bathrooms. This already exists for the schools, though they want to add a layer for accessibility, she said.
- That support has taken many forms already – everything from regular meetings with department heads, to supporting the Police Department in implementing the Anderson Kreiger recommendations, to working with LPS to draft a letter supporting antiracism education bills S.365 and H.584.
- Currently, this occurs through two primary outlets for Duffield – the Equity Officers Institute, and the Massachusetts DEI Coalition.
- Through the Equity Officer Institute, Duffield meets monthly with a cohort, is helping create a guidebook for equity officers, and will support the regional ICMA conference this spring by facilitating a conference table.
- The MA DEI Coalition meets bi-weekly, and often hosts guest speakers. They’re creating their own guide to equity work which is more tailored to the specific needs and limitations of municipalities, rather than to cities. Supplier diversity is a major focus of the coalition, Duffield added, and she is partnering with Lexington’s purchasing director to make an equity-focused plan to guide the town’s purchasing choices.
- Duffield serves as the town Liaison and Support for both the Commission on Disability and the Lexington Human Rights Committee. She is also rebuilding the Strategic Equity Advisory Team (SEAT – previously the Citizens Advisory Council + Diversity Task Force), and oversees some town-wide communications.
- In her two liaison roles, she has attended monthly meetings and supported events e.g. No Hate November and COVID effects on disabilities. She hopes to build a communication plan to increase awareness about these groups moving forward since both groups “have…told me they feel like residents don’t know they exist” and therefore can’t always access their services and support.
- In her SEAT leadership, Duffield has reestablished monthly meetings, updated the committee charge for 2021-22, and met individually with members because she felt people were being “too polite” in meetings and wanted to make sure everyone was sharing their honest feelings about where Lexington needs to go with its equity work. She will review takeaways from those individual meetings next quarter.
- Duffield holds community office hours Thursdays 1-3 p.m and tries to include monthly updates in the town’s Link to Lexington newsletter. She hopes to continue these communication channels in the future, and is considering starting a regular column about equity in the Colonial Times.
- “Not only is not free or cheap, it takes time,” she added. “So to do things with intention, means to slow down, and it can mean that maybe we don’t hit that deadline, because we want to make sure that we’re following a process and being intentional about it.”
Minuteman chooses new superintendent
- The Lexington Minuteman School Committee unanimously voted to appoint finalist Kathleen Dawson superintendent of Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School in their Wednesday evening meeting.
- Dr. Dawson, currently Deputy Superintendent of Orange County Schools in North Carolina, was one of three finalists to succeed the previous superintendent, Ed Bouquillon, who is retiring at the end of this year after holding this position since 2007. Dawson’s contract is currently being finalized, and she will take over for Bouquillon in July.
- The other two finalists were internal candidate Dr. Amy Perreault, assistant superintendent of Minuteman, and Kevin McCaskill, assistant superintendent in the Office of Secondary Schools for Boston Public Schools. While School Committee members praised all three candidates, multiple members stressed that Dawson showed the most vision for the future of Minuteman, and best matched all of the qualities in the Superintendent Profile the School Committee designed.
- Minuteman’s nine School Committee members represent nine different towns with students who attend Minuteman. Lexington’s representative, Judith Crocker, appreciated the energy and enthusiasm of all the candidates, but felt that Dawson was the most qualified to carry Minuteman forward. Still, she “could easily have voted for Dr. Perreault” and didn’t want her choice to diminish the role of Perreault at Minuteman.
- Crocker gave “a colonial Minuteman hurrah to the entire process.”
- You can view Dawson’s resume here, and learn more about Minuteman’s search process here.
Update on ARPA Funds: 1.5K rapid tests ordered, 126K distributed to seven businesses
- We previously reported that up to $25,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds were awarded to the Office of Public Health for both rapid tests and masks. Health Director Joanne Belanger reported that 1,500 antigen test kits had been ordered with federal ARPA funds at Monday’s Select Board meeting. Due to the order backlog, she expects the tests to take a few weeks to arrive, she said. The Office of Public Health has also sourced out a company which might be able to provide masks – but since they are asking for a higher minimum order than Lexington wants, they have not yet ordered masks and are still considering options, Belanger said.
- The first of seven PCR test clinics funded by additional ARPA support was held on MLK Day – every appointment was full, and every person showed up, Belanger said. Another six clinics are expected to be held in the next six weeks, though no clinic will be held this weekend due to the blizzard.
- Additionally, $126,000 of the available $250K have been awarded to seven Lexington businesses through the local business grant program, the town’s Economic Development Office reported Thursday. The grant program will remain open until all funds have been distributed, and a separate grant program exists for distributing $50K in aid to non-profit organizations.
COVID-19 Weekly Update: New school, LPS cases continue to decrease
- While last week, Lexington had 394 new COVID-19 cases, the Town is down to 234 new cases as of Thursday, Jan. 27 — still a substantial number, but an encouraging decrease compared to the last several weeks.
- The case number outlook continued to improve at Lexington Public Schools as well. As of Thursday, the school system had a total of 138 students and teachers absent who had tested positive, and just 10 students, but no staff, on quarantine. Last week, 235 students were absent who had tested positive, while 21 students and staff were on quarantine. All school buildings still had new cases this week.
- More good news: As of Jan. 24, 82.3% of LPS students K-12 are fully vaccinated.
- Later today, LexPride is sponsoring a Zoom event about Supporting and Affirming LGBTQIA+ Family Across Generations as part of their Celebrating LGBTQ+ Seniors project. You can register to attend the event, scheduled from 4-5:30 p.m., here.
- The Chinese American Association of Lexington (CAAL) will hold its second virtual gala to ring in the Lunar New Year on Monday, Jan. 31, from 8-9 p.m, in collaboration with Boston Asian Radio and TV Station, New Legacy Cultural Center and the Town of Lexington. The evening will feature performances from local and Boston-area artists in a variety of styles. You can view online streaming options here.
- Next Friday, the League of Women Voters is holding their February First Friday; they will hold a forum via Zoom about the the gas-powered leaf blower referendum question which will be on the ballot in March, featuring panelists both in favor and against the referendum question. You can learn more about the event here.
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Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, Sarah Liu, Vivian Wang and Seiya Saneyoshi