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LYNDEBOROUGH

Stands on police issue differ

  • Fred Douglas, Donnie Sawin, candidates for Lyndeborough Select Board<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Fred Douglas, Donnie Sawin, candidates for Lyndeborough Select Board<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

LYNDEBOROUGH — Incumbent Select Board member Donnie Sawin and former board member Fred Douglas, who is challenging Sawin in this year’s election, don’t agree on how to manage a police department.

Both men have police experience. Douglas, 59, was police chief in Milford for 13 years and a police officer for more than 25 years. Sawin, 45, is currently a part-time officer in Wilton, and was once a part-time officer in Lyndeborough, although he took a leave of absence when he was elected to the Select Board and later resigned from that job.

Their disagreement hinges on how the Police Department is structured. It’s currently run by a part-time officer-in-charge, a job now held by Lt. Rance Deware. Lyndeborough adopted the officer-in-charge system at a special town meeting in 2008, when voters chose to eliminate the police chief job after battling in court with former chief James Basinas, who was fired by the Select Board in 2007. Earlier this year, after Capt. Thomas Burke resigned as officer in charge, citing board interference, and Sgt. Paul Roy was fired by the Select Board, a group of residents filed a petition warrant article that would direct the board to hire a police chief.

Douglas insists that having a chief, not an officer-in-charge, is the way to go. According to Douglas, an officer-in-charge has fewer statutory protections against interference than a police chief does. “The separation of powers is imperative,” Douglas said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Once you hire a police chief, he or she operates independently. It’s ridiculous not to have a police chief in Lyndeborough.”

Douglas said the current Select Board, including Sawin, was micromanaging the Police Department, citing Burke’s contention that board members told him to fire Roy. “In my opinion, they were trying to put pressure on Capt. Burke that was totally unjustified,” Douglas said.

Sawin said, in a Wednesday phone interview, that the town doesn’t need a police chief. “I personally have nothing against a chief in general, as long as it’s the right chief,” he said. “Right now, we don’t need a chief. Things are going perfect now. Rance is here and we have a great staff. I think we can give it some time.”

Burke’s resignation and the firing of Roy took place shortly after the two officers began an investigation into Sawin’s conduct, including an incident in which he went in uniform to the scene of a homicide in Lyndeborough, even though he was not called there by either Burke or by Wilton police. Sawin has said that Burke and Roy tried to get him to resign as a selectman, even threatening to arrest him. That prompted Sawin to seek an investigation by the N.H. Attorney General’s Office. Ultimately, the Attorney General’s Office found no criminal activities had occurred and no charges were filed against anyone, but some residents criticized the Select Board for not providing information about the investigation while it was ongoing and spending town money on outside legal counsel without explaining why it was necessary.

After the Attorney General’s decision was released, Sawin said that he had felt intimidated by Burke and Roy when he was asked to resign. “The board and I felt it was more an assault on the board than at an individual,” he said. “They wanted me not to be on the board, because I would say no to their requests for more money.”

Sawin said the board hired an outside attorney because Town Counsel William Drescher “doesn’t handle that type of case. We had no choice.”

Douglas said the board still needs to be held accountable for spending about $23,000 with the Stein Law Firm of Concord during the investigation. Referring to Sawin, Douglas said, “The individual that the investigation surrounded was being looked at as a citizen, not a selectman. Capt. Burke and Sgt. Roy didn’t threaten that [Sawin] was going to be arrested. That allegation doesn’t hold water with me. There was $23,000 spent on what I’d classify as a private citizen investigation.”

Douglas, who served a term on the Select Board several years ago, said the board’s lack of open communication when people questioned the board’s actions prompted him to run for office. “The current board decided to shut down the public forum [at board meetings] which demonstrated that they didn’t want to hear from people,” he said. “That’s the start of the erosion of democracy.”

Sawin disputed that claim. “At one point, when it was a lynch mob in there, we stopped the ‘stand up and shout’ kind of thing and started asking people to sign up,” he said. “We’ve passed that hump now. We have open forum. Let’s move forward.”

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