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Auburn Police Commission in fight for its political life

AUBURN - Residents filled the meeting room of the town's Safety Complex on Tuesday night to witness what could be one of the Auburn Police Commission's last meetings.

With the local election a week away, members of the commission sought to clear the air of harsh accusations made by a political advertisement that appeared in the March edition of the Auburn Village Crier.

The advertisement is in support of Article 8, which would abolish the 17-year-old commission. The advertisement asks, "What has the Police Commission done for taxpayers recently?" The ad continues to list seven examples of ways in which the commission has negatively impacted the town. It claims that the commission has no reason to exist, that it used more taxpayer money than is justifiable and that it even violated state law.

Auburn is not the only town to consider the removal of its commission. A voter's guide delivered to Auburn residents states that 13 of 234 municipal governments in New Hampshire have a commission. The Rochester, Hooksett, and Auburn elections all include articles asking voters whether or not the commission should be disbanded.

The Auburn Police Commission was established to ease the board of selectmen's burden of managing the Police Department. The duties of the commissioners include the appointing, evaluation and removal of police personnel and staff and the supervision of the police operations.

Chairman David Dion addressed two claims made by the ad. The first claims that during 2010 and 2011 the police commission reorganized the police department's full-time positions in order to raise the salary of personnel while no other town employee received a pay raise.

"Well, that's very misleading," Dion said. He said that during the reorganization, the Auburn Police Department was operating with one less officer. He argues that the reorganization allowed the department to both promote personnel internally and employ a new officer for a lower cost than hiring an external, experienced officer. He said the move saved the department $12,000.

"The town paid substantial money to have a wage study done on all positions in the town: police, fire, everybody," Dion said and stressed that the new personnel salaries were set in accordance with the wage study and that the budget committee sanctioned the decision.

"Being a businessman for 37 years, I always believed in promoting from within," Dion said. "It was just pure business common sense that we do that."

The second claim stated that the police commission caused significant officer dissatisfaction that caused the Auburn Police to unionize. It states that unionization cost taxpayers $11,743 in 2012 and is projected to cost $25,000 in 2013.

Dion asked Calvin Kapos, an Auburn patrol officer of 13 years and the Auburn Police Union president, to speak on behalf of the union. Kapos said the Union is "110 percent behind the police commission.

"We wanted to make sure that we could negotiate our rights and not have them dictated to us."

He argued that the cost of unionization was due to the town's decision to use an attorney to negotiate from the beginning. "There is going to be a cost association with the formation of any union," said Dion. Kapos said the attorney's excellent negotiations were worth the expense.

Dion's own political advertisement appeared as an insert in the Crier. In it, he states the Police Commission has worked closely with the Auburn Police to implement two emergency broadcast systems, NIXLE and RAIDS, and that the services the police commission provides costs taxpayers nothing. It also says the commission was responsible for the recreation of the Auburn Neighborhood Watch.

Members of the audience expressed concern over the advertisement opposed to the commission. Unlike Dion's advertisement, which was printed as an insert, the opposing advertisement was printed on the publication's back page.

"We don't control the editorial staff of the newsletter," said Dennis McCarthy, a member of the police commission.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Dion expressed hope for the future of commission. He spoke about the commission's work with Auburn Village School.

"We've had two big rallies at the school," he said, "If we're here after the election, we'll have a third."

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