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Lyndeborough

Voters: Hire police chief

Article to reinstate police job passes

LYNDEBOROUGH — By just a two-vote margin, residents at Saturday’s Town Meeting directed the Select Board to hire a police chief, rather than continuing with the current officer-in-charge system. Forty-five voters supported the article, which was brought forward by petition after a series of meetings of residents last summer, while 43 were opposed.

A second petition article, to set up a structure for an interviewing and vetting process for hiring a police chief, passed by a wider margin, 57 to 31, after voters approved an amendment put forward by Lee Mayhew, one of the sponsors of the article.

The article on setting up a interview process came up for a vote first, and Mayhew immediately offered an amendment. The new wording he proposed eliminated a request for $7,400 to use toward the process. It also changed the wording to specify that the process would be for “the next hiring a chief of police” rather than “the next commanding officer,” which was the wording of the original petition article.

Mayhew said Monday that his amendment was intended to clarify that it was a “sense of the meeting” article to give direction and to eliminate the request for a specific amount of money.

The amendment was approved on a voice vote, and then the amended article was approved by the 57-31 margin in a secret ballot vote.

After voting on the hiring process proposal, voters took up the petition article calling for the Select Board to appoint a police chief. Select Board member Kevin Boette moved to amend the article so that the current officer in charge of the Lyndeborough Police Department, Lt. Rance Deware, would be appointed police chief if the article were to pass. According to Mayhew, a number of residents immediately protested, including Fred Douglas, the former Milford police chief who was elected to the Select Board on March 12, defeating incumbent board member Donnie Sawin.

“I think a lot of people took issue with that,” Douglas said on Monday about Boette’s amendment. “I indicated that we just voted on the previous article to have a process for hiring a chief.” Douglas said Deware would be welcome to apply for the police chief job but the board should follow the wishes of voters and follow their recommendation in the interviewing and vetting process, which includes having a citizens’ panel to interview candidates.

Boette withdrew his proposed amendment. The Ledger-Transcript was unable to contact him on Monday for comment prior to deadline.

Douglas said the close vote on the second petition article indicated that some voters have reservations about having a police chief.

“The biggest sticking point for those opposed was the feeling that once you hire a chief of police, you can’t get rid of him,” Douglas said. “I spoke to this, and my point is that if management addresses issues in a standardized, documented way, you shouldn’t have a problem. I spoke to the reason that an appeal process has to be in place, so you don’t have political influences.”

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, Capt. Thomas Burke resigned as officer in charge, citing board interference, and Sgt. Paul Roy was fired by the Select Board. Those incidents prompted the petition warrant article to direct the board to hire a police chief.

Mayhew said Monday that the two petitions passed at Town Meeting should give the members of the new Select Board — Boette, Douglas and board Chair Arnie Byam — direction on how to proceed. “The most important thing was to have discussion by the community,” Mayhew said. “A great many of the people who were at meetings this summer were there. This really struck a chord. People were courteous and polite. The town made its vote. Now the selectmen need to go to work.”

In other business, voters approved the $1,640,402 operating budget and added funds to a number of capital reserve funds for future equipment purchases. They also approved $23,000 to buy a four-wheel drive police cruiser, to replace an existing vehicle. The total cost of the cruiser is $37,000, but $14,000 comes from funds approved in a warrant article at Town Meeting last year.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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