Folks miffed over chief departure

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, September 14, 2017

A number of Rindge residents have taken to public comments and letters to the town of Rindge to voice their displeasure in the recent resignation of Police Chief Todd Muilenberg.

Many of the letter-writers and people who spoke at a recent Select Board meeting have condemned the selectmen – in some cases Selectmen Jim Qualey and Robert Hamilton were specifically or indirectly called out – for acting in a way that has caused Muilenberg to leave for a position with the Jaffrey Police Department.

Dissatisfaction was also apparent regarding the staff turn-over in town, with the town searching for a town administrator, multiple executive secretaries, a recreation director, and now a police chief in the past few years.

“I am appalled that the town lost yet another good employee due to town government’s inability to work cooperatively with well respected employees,” said Rebecca Weidner, in a Sept. 5 email to all three Selectmen. “Chief Muilenberg was well respected by residents in this town, he was community minded, and a very good policeman. This is a HUGE loss for the town.”

Qualey, chair of the Select Board, allowed for members of the public to speak for over 20 minutes during a citizens forum at the beginning of Wednesday’s board meeting, with most comments relating to Muilenberg’s resignation and loss of town employees. 

“I have brought to your attention on several occasions that your lack of support for the Chief during the COPS grant process to refill the eighth officer position was troubling and would likely result in the loss of this dedicated and exceptional employee,” said Maryann Harper during Wednesday’s meeting, reading from a letter she submitted to the town. “I find your actions to be irresponsible and harmful to our community.”

Interim chief

The town of Rindge has announced that Rindge Police Department Sergeant Daniel Anair will serve as interim police chief, effective Sept. 23, while the town searches for its next chief of police. 

Anair was hired by the Rindge Police Department on Feb. 19, 2001, according to a press release issued by Town Administrator Joe Byk on Monday afternoon. He was promoted to detective in 2004 and to sergeant in 2012, working a total of 16-and-a-half years for the town. 

Anair was recommended to become the next police chief in town by departing Police Chief Todd Muilenberg, who said in his resignation letter that “Dan’s tenure, institutional knowledge, community contacts, policing abilities, and leadership skills make him the obvious choice.”

It was announced two weeks ago that Muilenberg would be leaving his position with the Rindge Police Department on Sept. 22, after three years of service to the town.

In his resignation letter, Muilenberg said he had intended to finish his policing career with the town after ten years of service, but it became clear to him that his “leadership style, values, and vision” for the town weren’t being supported by Selectmen and other “important committees.”

Save Our Town and staff turnover

Some of the letters and comments made at the board meeting suggested that Hamilton and Qualey were only supporting a small group of people in town when making decisions, referring to controversial citizen group Save Our Town. 

“Why are members of the BOS pandering to one particular faction known as Save Our Town (SOT)?” said Elisa Benincaso, in a Sept. 6 letter to all three Selectmen and Town Administrator Joe Byk. “It is impossible not to notice there recent exodus of numerous town employees such as the resignation of our former Town Administrator.”

Former Town Administrator Jane Pitt had submitted her resignation on Feb. 24, 2016, saying during a March 9 Select Board meeting that there had been attacks on her personal character, which she found unacceptable. 

At one point in the meeting, the selectmen were asked by Susan Wessels what they thought was leading to the high rate of attrition in town, but Qualey responded by saying he didn’t see the citizens forum as a question and answer period, adding that he thought it was a question worthy of thought. 

“I have some theories, but I’m not prepared to share them,” said Qualey. 

Rick Sirvint pointed out during the meeting that while Qualey and Hamilton voted against accepting a $125,000 grant to subsidize the hiring, instead leaving the decision up to voters, but they both were in support of hiring an eighth officer in town. 

Don Cook said during the meeting that he would be interested in serving on a committee to talk with department heads to see if and why they don’t feel supported in town.

Qualey said talking about the potential committee could be placed on a future Select Board agenda. 

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or nhandy@ledgertranscript.com. He is also on Twitter @nhandyMLT.