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Hartford Police Chief: Health Care Issue Delaying Appointment

Cancer Survivor Says Lifetime Health Benefits A Requirement

By JENNA CARLESSO

July 30, 2012

HARTFORD For weeks, James Rovella's appointment as the city's next police chief has been delayed, most recently due to a contractual issue that the mayor's office said it was working to resolve.

On Monday it became clear what was holding up the appointment. When asked by a city council member whether he would accept the job without lifetime health care benefits, Rovella replied "No."

"That's somewhat of a requirement, yes, because of my health," he told the council, whose members questioned him as part of a confirmation hearing Monday. City officials noted that Rovella, named by Mayor Pedro Segarra as the city's new police chief earlier this month, is a cancer survivor.

"To do otherwise would be destabilizing," Rovella said afterward, referring to accepting a job without lifetime health care.

Rovella, the city's acting police chief and chief inspector for the chief state's attorney's office, was named chief effective July 18. But a background check and contractual issues had delayed the appointment.

Council President Shawn Wooden said Monday that city officials have contacted him about the possibility of changing a city ordinance to allow Rovella to obtain lifetime health care for himself and his family at no cost. The ordinance change is required because under the city charter, the contract for a new police chief can be up to four years, but the chief would qualify for lifetime healthcare benefits after five years of service.

Wooden said city officials are considering including Rovella's prior year of service to the city as head of the Hartford Shooting Task Force, acting police chief and a special assistant to the mayor to allow him to qualify for lifetime health care.

Asked Monday if he would grant Rovella the benefits, Segarra said: "It's up for negotiation and we'll explore it. It's a question of fairness."

Jared Kupiec, the mayor's chief of staff, added: "I think the mayor is willing to, and will, consider every possible tool and resource to make sure Rovella is the police chief."

Wooden, however, said he would be "reluctant" to grant such a request.

"I think, generally, there's a view that we ought to be careful in giving out special deals," he said. "As council president, I would be reluctant to change an ordinance to create a special benefit for one employee of the city."

The council will likely vote on Rovella's appointment at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 13, he said.

Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, who asked Rovella about the health care issue Monday, said the council would have to think hard about the request.

"I have no problem providing him with affordable benefits, but he's asking for free lifetime health care," Kennedy said. "That's not a small ask. I think that's a tough sell for the taxpayers."

Several residents who attended Monday's public meeting praised Rovella for his service with the police department and urged the council to approve his appointment.

One resident said she's been able to get more sleep since Rovella began leading the department in February.

Rovella said his immediate goals for the department included keeping level or reducing the amount of violent crime and putting together various crime-reducing components within the department, such as strengthening its connection with the faith-based community and implementing methods created by the criminologist David M. Kennedy.

He emphasized the importance of community policing and maintaining a relationship with the neighborhoods. During roll call at the department, he said, he has encouraged officers to smile and interact with people.

"This is the next adventure for me, in Hartford," Rovella said. "I pursued it for all the right reasons. It's an obligation, and obligation is a good reason."

Staff writer Jesse Rifkin contributed to this report.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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