ATKINSON - Selectmen terminated Police Chief Philip Consentino with cause during a non-public session Wednesday night, ending the career of one of the longest-serving police chiefs in New Hampshire.
Consentino, 72, had announced his retirement in an email to town officials earlier this week, but the town revealed Thursday morning that the chief, who served 45 years on the department, was placed on administrative leave Feb. 5 from his role as chief and director of elderly affairs.
"The termination is effective immediately," town administrator Bill Innes said in a press release. "Mr. Consentino is no longer a town employee."
Selectmen placed Consentino on leave in the wake of "an investigation of a personnel matter by an independent consulting firm," Innes said.
The town did not provide any details about the issue.
"After review of the report completed by this independent consultant, the board determined that terminating Mr. Consentino from his town positions was appropriate," Innes said in the released statement.
He said that because the termination relates to Consentino's employment, "it is confidential and will be kept confidential."
Selectmen named police Sgt. Pat Caggiano as the town's acting police chief.
Caggiano, a longtime veteran of the Plaistow police department, joined Atkinson's police force within the last year. Innes was appointed by selectmen as the acting director of elderly affairs.
"We have no further comment at this time," Innes said.
Consentino served as police chief for 35 years but was a member of the department for 45.
In his letter announcing his retirement issued before he was fired, Consentino said he planned to step down April 2.
"It is with sincere regret that due to some past and present health issues and this weekend's stay in the hospital I am retiring from both the police chief's position and as the town's director of elderly affairs," Consentino wrote in a letter addressed to selectmen.
Consentino's lawyer, Mark Giarrusso, said he hasn't seen the report from the independent consultant but was surprised to learn that selectmen chose to fire him Wednesday night.
"I don't know what the town is doing here. He's been talking about retiring for some time and over the past week he made it clear to them that he was going to retire," Giarrusso said, adding that Consentino is a "good guy" and that it was "time for him to move on."
Giarrusso said he didn't know whether Consentino planned to appeal the termination.
In his retirement letter, Consentino wrote, "It has been a great 45 years and I feel confident in retiring at this time due to the great police force I have put together over the past several years, and the terrific guys that work for the Elderly Affairs Department."
Selectman Fred Childs, board chairman, said Wednesday that selectmen had not received the letter from Consentino announcing his retirement.
"He never sent us anything official. He hasn't said anything," Childs said.
While some have praised Consentino for his dedication to the town, he has also been a lightning rod for controversy. He grabbed national headlines in 2003 when he tried to crack down on Massachusetts residents traveling over the border to trick-or-treat in his town on Halloween.
His dual role as police chief and elderly affairs director also came under attack over the years with some pushing to have elderly affairs removed from the police department.
Ethical questions also arose when he was elected selectman in 2003 while also serving as police chief and elderly affairs director.
In his letter, Consentino said he has been pleased with the support he and his family have received from the town and its residents.
He said the greatest part of his job was developing what he believes is one of the best senior citizen programs in southern New Hampshire.
With retirement approaching, Consentino wrote, "I look forward to working on my health problems, working around my farm and spending more time with my family."
Derry Police Chief Ed Garone said Consentino will be missed.
Garone is another law enforcement veteran who will have served 41 years as chief on June 1 and is the longest-serving full-time chief still in the position.
"He and I are of similar vintage. I'll miss that at meetings and not having a comrade of similar seniority there," Garone said.
Garone has worked with Consentino over the years and described him as a chief who was always "straightforward" with people.
"You didn't worry where he came from," Garone said. "If he had an opinion he wasn't afraid to share it."