Northampton hires director to set up community care department


Staff Writer

Published: 11-10-2021 10:00 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The city has hired an “implementation director” to begin the process of creating a department that is meant to provide an alternative, civilian response to situations currently handled by police officers.

Mayor David Narkewicz announced Tuesday that he had hired Sean Donovan to lead Northampton’s Department of Community Care. Donovan is the “transformation project coordinator” at Holyoke’s Wildflower Alliance, a peer-to-peer support organization that works with people who have experienced everything from a psychiatric diagnosis or trauma to homelessness, substance-use problems and other challenges.

Earlier this year, the Northampton Policing Review Commission identified the creation of a Department of Community Care as an immediate priority for the city. In a job description for the implementation director position, the city described the department as responding to “calls related to behavioral health, substance use, social service-related requests, and other crisis situations of Northampton residents and visitors.”

In a phone interview, Donovan said he is excited about the new role and grateful for those who made the Department of Community Care a possibility, from the Northampton Policing Review Commission to the many residents who spoke up to support the department’s creation at public meetings. He said he is looking forward to beginning the department’s work.

“Particularly addressing the needs of people impacted by criminalization, by the psychiatric system and others in our community who often get left out of decisions,” he said.

In its final report, the Policing Review Commission listed the creation of the new department as its first recommendation. The commission named as a key component of the department peer response to situations like mental health and substance use crises.

Javier Luengo-Garrido, who was a member of the commission, said Tuesday that the hiring of Donovan is an important step. He said he’s hopeful that with Donovan in charge of creating the department, the city will see substantial and positive change.

“Having somebody as capable as Sean Donovan is going to make a big difference for this department and this city,” said Luengo-Garrido, who is an organizing strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “I appreciate the process, the work, of the search committee and the mayor on this issue.”

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Donovan will now be tasked with creating a city department from scratch. Donovan’s starting salary for the full-time, temporary position is $86,486, Narkewicz said.

Narkewicz and the City Council appropriated $423,955 for the new department in this fiscal year budget. State Sen. Jo Comerford also secured the city an additional $150,000 state budget appropriation to support the department’s creation. Some in the city had advocated for more money to be dedicated to the department.

Narkewicz said 27 candidates sought the position.

“I think Sean just had the combination of skills and experience, including his work in the peer-led support community, which is an important component of this new department,” he said.

Narkewicz noted that Donovan, a Northampton resident, was involved with the Northampton Policing Review Commission as a member of the public.

“His combination of skills and experience, together with a lot of research he’s already done on the issues and the various models that are out there, made him the best candidate to really hit the ground running and stand up this important new agency,” Narkewicz said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at]]>