WESTERLY — As he settles into his role as city manager, Shawn Lacey says he relishes the challenge of a new profession and plans to harness many of the leadership skills and approaches he has developed during a decades-long career with the Westerly Police Department.
During a recent interview in the conference room outside her new office at City Hall, Lacey reflected on her more than three decades with the police department, discussed the differences and similarities between her former job and his current job, and talked about his new duties and responsibilities as city manager. City Council in late February handed the job to Lacey after serving in an interim role for about five months.
“My job in these positions is to build relationships with citizens — everyone in the city — and foster a positive relationship where they feel they’re getting the services they need,” Lacey said.
Lacey grew up in the city and raised her three daughters, all now adults, here with his wife, Darlene. He started working for the police department part-time as a reserve officer in 1986 while in college. At the time, he was studying construction engineering. He then returned to college to earn a degree in criminal justice and returned to school once again to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice.
After the stint as a reserve officer, he was hired as a patrol officer and rose through the ranks in a 35-year career that culminated with three years as department head. He retired to become general manager.
“I looked at it as another leadership position that I got interested in. I see it as progression — the next step,” Lacey said.
Early in his police career, when he usually worked second or third shifts, he also ran a carpentry and interior construction business and later teamed up with colleague Stano Trombino to buy houses, fix them , then sell them. With a young family at the time, Lacey said, he needed both jobs to gain financial stability.
“I used to do construction all day and then go into second shift,” Lacey said.
Trombino and Lacey eventually expanded their business to include commercial property and currently own two commercial lots, one in Westerly and one in Johnston. Lacey said most of his real estate and construction endeavors have been on hold since 2011, when he was named captain of the police department.
A self-described “family guy,” Lacey said he enjoys traveling with family members or going to visit his two daughters, who live out of state. One of her three daughters lives in Westerly and works as a teacher at Dunn’s Corners Elementary School.
He trains and walks the two Dalmatians in the family every day. He also loves skiing and the beach. He rarely drinks and it is even rarer, he says, to see him with a glass in his hand in public.
“I don’t want to be half in the bag and be judged on it. Instead, I’m going to show myself in a way that I expect others to act,” Lacey said.
fight to stay
In 2018, Lacey found himself in the awkward position of having to file a lawsuit against the city in an attempt to continue his policing career. The case involved a state law that requires Westerly police officers to retire after 30 years of service. As his 30th anniversary approached, Lacey was informed that the city would not renew his contract and that he had to retire.
Not wanting to leave at 52, Lacey spoke to lawyers and filed a lawsuit. A judge issued an injunction requiring the city to keep Lacey until the case is resolved. Lacey was eventually made head of the department before the case was decided, and he withdrew the lawsuit before it was resolved. His lawyers told him they were confident he would have won because the law supported a form of age discrimination.
“I regret that I had to make this decision because it’s not me, it’s not my makeup, but unfortunately it was the only action I could take,” Lacey said.
Lacey called the episode “heartbreaking” but said he was forced to fight for a job he loved. The trial followed a rocky period in which Lacey was passed over for the chief’s post in favor of an outside candidate – Richard Silva, former Warwick Chief Constable.
Throughout the tense period, Lacey said, he tried to remain respectful to Silva and Derrik M. Kennedy, the city manager at the time. Kennedy nominated Silva over Lacey.
“I attended Richard Silva’s swearing-in and was the only member of the police department there,” Lacey said.
‘We are all equal’
Council members, after appointing Lacey as city manager, described his calm demeanor, knowledge of the city, its people and challenges as attributes. He’s also been praised for seemingly simple things not all former city managers have done, like returning phone calls. “Nobody gets turned away. There’s nobody I wouldn’t talk to and I’ve learned that it means a lot when you call people back,” Lacey said.
He credits his ability to stay calm to a few factors, including his job in law enforcement, which often exposes officers to people dealing with raw emotions and tragic events. When working with those he manages, Lacey said, he advises waiting before responding to difficult emails or phone calls.
“People are going to judge you more on how you react to situations than on the overall situation,” Lacey said.
Lacey acknowledged a tension that sometimes arises between property owners who live in coastal sections of the city and those who don’t. Professionally, Lacey said he has a good relationship with coastal fire districts, which act like small government agencies. He said he expects to maintain the same footing as the city manager.
“We’re all equal whether you live on Pond Street (in the north end of town) or Bluff Avenue (in Watch Hill),” Lacey said.
City workers should use the same approach, Lacey said.
“As a city, we’re here to serve Watch Hill and Weekapaug as much as any other part of the city,” Lacey said.
To make things progress
In his first year as city manager, Lacey said he was committed to both learning and trying to move the city forward. He is set to begin his first municipal budget review with the city council, having released his proposed spending plan for 2022-23 earlier this week. Unlike his recent predecessors, Lacey immediately posted his proposed budget on the city’s website and made the budget book available to The Sun before the Finance Council began its review process, which serves as the official first round. of the process.
“I’m a big believer in transparency. You may not agree with that, but I’ll say it. There’s nothing wrong with citizens knowing what my proposed budget is” , said Lacey. “I never want to be accused of hiding something or not being truthful or sincere.”
The learning process, Lacey said, involves recognizing the differences between managing the police department, where officers form a cohesive group in a paramilitary environment with clear roles and lines of command, and the multiple departments of government. municipal.
“Each department has its own makeup. Trying to keep track of every little thing that’s going on in each department is definitely a challenge,” Lacey said.
When he meets with city staff, Lacey said, he values listening and is especially interested in hearing opposing points of view.
“I’m laid back to some degree and I listen to people. I’m not bossy or looking to make a lot of changes, but everyone is responsible and I want to know the steps in the process,” Lacey said. .
Whether he’s meeting with subordinates or speaking with residents about issues or concerns, Lacey said, he tries to consider all perspectives.
“I think if you’re trying to do what’s right, if you’re fair, and you have compassion and you’re willing to work with everybody, then I think people accept,” he said. -he declares.