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March 11. 2013 8:58PM

Lyndeborough voters to have say on chief position

LYNDEBOROUGH - During a special town meeting in 2007, the people of Lyndeborough voted to eliminate the position of police chief in order to end a legal battle between the town and then-chief James Basinas. But this week, voters will be asked to reinstate the position of chief at town meeting.

Since Basinas lost his job in December 2007, the police department has been overseen by different administrators with various titles and the Board of Selectmen. With the help of a consultant, the board determined that instead of a police chief, the department could be run by an "Officer in Charge" or "OIC" who would work hand-in-hand with the board to handle the department's business.

Currently, according to Selectman Kevin Boette, the arrangement is working well. Lt. Rainsford Deware is the department's officer in charge and has been successful in taking a department in turmoil and making it run smoothly, said Boette.

"He has quickly staffed up the department and regularly reports and communicates with the board," said Boette. "We hope to continue this arrangement and don't want to alter this current system, which has been working well."

But the system hasn't always worked well. Prior to Deware coming on board, Capt. Thomas Burke, a veteran of the Bedford Police Department, was serving as OIC until the relationship with the Board of Selectmen soured.

Burke and his second-in-command, Sgt. Paul Roy, butted heads with the board over various issues, investigations were launched both against the officers and board member Donald Sawin, and the Attorney General's Office got involved. To the board and some townspeople, Burke and Roy were seen as overreaching and power-hungry, and to the officers and other townspeople, the board was seen as vindictive and controlling toward Burke and Roy. Eventually, all investigations were dropped, no charges were filed against anyone, Roy was fired and Burke soon resigned. A lawsuit is now pending against the town by Burke and Roy.

Watching the melee between the board and the police department, resident Lee Mayhew grew convinced that without the statutory protections afforded a police chief by New Hampshire law, the OIC is at the mercy of the whims of the Board of Selectmen.

After organizing a series of community meetings to discuss the situation, Mayhew and other townsfolk decided it was time to reconsider the position of police chief. At town meeting, voters will take up two petitioned warrant articles related to re-establishing the position. The first of the articles directs the Board of Selectmen to appoint a police chief. The second article raises funds to cover the cost of conducting a thorough search for a new police chief.

Mayhew said the second article is important because Lyndeborough has had a reputation for hiring chiefs without thoroughly vetting them, and the results have not been good.

"Citizens wonder how could we have gotten the bad chiefs in the past that we have had to work to get rid of," said Mayhew. "Perhaps we need a better and more thorough vetting and that is the intent of this article."

Boette said the board remains opposed to reinstating the position of police chief because the state offers no protection to small towns that need to part company with their chiefs but face costly legal battles in order to do so.

"RSA 105 protects the chief and empowers him without any real way of removing him for weak or poor performance," said Boette. "There is not another position in the public or private sector that has these kinds of protections. If you have a chief that is not performing up to the expectations of the town, you can't fire him."

However, Boette said the board will follow what the voters ask them to do at Town Meeting on Saturday.

"If the people of Lyndeborough vote on Saturday that they want a chief, then the board will respect the will of the voters," he said.

nfoster@newstote.com


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