Marietta S. Lee never thought of herself as the police commissioner type. But, when the call came from the Republican Town Committee, she immediately felt like it might be a good fit.
Her resume supports that notion. She is well grounded in the community, having grown up here. She moved back, after she got married and had kids, because she wants her children to grow up here. One of Madison's main selling points for her? It was a safe place to grow up.
She is vice president of the Board of Directors at the Scranton Library, and she has served on the board of The Valley Shore YMCA in Westbrook, and The Shoreline Foundation in Guilford.
Volunteering is a family tradition
She founded the non-profit Madison Fireworks Organization in 1992 to raise money for the town's annual Independence Day fireworks display, so that the town wouldn't get stuck with the bill. The event remains a highlight of the summer months, drawing visitors from all over who bring their money to spend in town. Her children are following in her volunteer footsteps, having set up a lemonade stand this past summer to help raise money for that cause.
Lee is vice president and corporate secretary of The Lee Company, a family owned business started by her grandfather, Leighton Lee II, more than 60 years ago. The company provides 860 employees with jobs in Westbrook and Essex, including all-too-rare manufacturing jobs.
Her undergraduate degree is from Georgetown University, she received a Juris Doctor, Cum Laude, from Catholic University, and she has a Master of Science in Engineering from the University of New Haven.
But, when it came time to fill out the application ...
But when it came time to fill out the application for police commissioner, she came to the question about whether there was anything she wanted to say about her past. Was there anything the town should know before officials made their decision about her candidacy?
She used to be an undercover television reporter working "in a unit that investigated public corruption and fraud in the city of Houston, Texas. This included undercover/hidden camera investigations of the police department, fire department, and city officials."
"I would like to call it to your attention"
Lee went on to write that she did not think this would constitute a conflict of interest but, she added, "I would like to call it to your attention."
Lee was hired, working for KTRK-ABC News from 1995 to 1996, because had a journalist's instincts, and she was trained as a lawyer. She was able to help her news team ferret out stories, while at the same time providing them with guidance to keep them on the right side of the law, before the story was finalized.
"When I first got to Houston, I had just gotten out of law school. On these kind of investigative stories, the station was always getting sued. So they had a law firm on retainer to check everything, but they wanted someone on the team who understood the law as well," she said.
"A purse cam, a baseball cap cam, a sun glass cam ... "
When it comes to taping conversations, Texas is single-party consent state. That means that only one person in the conversation has to agree to it being taped for it to be legal.
"I had a purse cam, a baseball cap cam, a sun glass cam. And the TV station could rig a camera just about anywhere they wanted to," she said.
Not only did Lee have a law degree and the right equipment, she had another advantage as well. She was new to town. So, she was often tapped to go out on the town and conduct the sting operations.
"We're talking leather couches, cigars, cordials ... "
One of her first assignments was to track a fire inspector who was suspected of not doing the job. On her first night on that job, she followed him into a "gentleman's club."
"We're talking leather couches, cigars, cordials," Lee says, during a recent conversation at in Madison, after she got off of work. "There I am, this little girl from Connecticut with a purse cam and not even sure how to turn it on."
She finally figured out how to turn it on and got the fire inspector on the job, inspecting the women working at the club, and "stuffing money into the underwear," Lee says, holding her cup of Madagascar black tea--no sugar, no milk--in one hand and making stuffing motions with her other hand. "Then there were bar owners stuffing booze into the back of the car. It was like something out of a gangster movie. And we had it all on video."
Falsified logs, a tragic fire
But her work wasn't done there. She and the team then used the state's Freedom of Information Act laws to get the inspector's logs.
"He had falsified the logs," she said. Tragically, a few days before the story aired, a chemical warehouse burnt to the ground. "The fire inspector said he had inspected it, but he hadn't," Lee says. "We were able to prove he hadn't. The department got cleaned out."
The television team angered a lot of people with that story, and others, and members of the team would often worry when they saw a police officer in their rear view mirror. "Initially it seemed there were always police officers in our rear view mirrors," Lee said. "It was a good-ol'-boy state."
Houston in August in a bar on a stake out is not where you want to be
Lee's team also staked out government contractors, and followed judges including one who claimed he could not take on any additional work, and then left the office at 11 a.m. to hit the bars. "I spent a lot of hot hours in bars and I have got to tell you, Houston in August in a bar is not where you want to be doing a stake out."
She later worked for COURT-TV in Washington, D.C., and CBS News in Washington, D.C. as a producer for The Early Show. Other than her on-the-job experience, Lee says her encounters with law enforcement types have been few and far in between.
There was the time when she was a kid in Madison, coming back from the beach with too many kids in her car. She got stopped. "What can I say, guilty as charged," Lee says. And then, not too long ago, she got stopped for driving too fast on the Hammonasset Connector. "But officer I was only going 65," turned out to be an ineffective discussion opener since the speed limit is less than that. Lee smiles. She says she knew better than to argue and got a ticket.
A favorable impression of the police force and police administration
She says both encounters were pretty much non-events and that she has a very favorable impression of the current police force and police administration in Madison. But she said she's cognizant of the fact that it needs to stay that way. Clearly she can never use the same tactics she used while a reporter, since Connecticut law requires both parties to be aware of any recordings. Still, she says she would not hesitate to look into and try to resolve any problems that are brought to her attention, by a police officer, the police administration, other town officials, or the public.
"Because of Madison's history, because of the lobsters and the hookers, we have to be held to a higher standard than other police departments who don't have the history that we have," she said, referring to incidents several years ago when officers were accused of stealing food from restaurants and meeting prostitutes while on the job. "I think the department is doing a very good job of holding to that higher standard and I look forward to it remaining that way."
"Impressed by her intelligence and common sense"
Lee also feels that, as a daughter, wife, and mother, she brings something important to the job. She notes she is the only woman on the police commission, and that there are many female dispatchers, officers and staff.
"I think, in many ways, I have a lot to offer," she said.
First Selectman Fillmore McPherson, following a vote earlier this week to approve Lee's appointment at the Board of Selectmen meeting, said he agreed.
“We are very happy to have someone of Marietta’s caliber on the board," he said, following the meeting. "Everyone who meets her is impressed by her intelligence and common sense.”