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Gilmanton selectmen claim authority over defiant police chief who's suing them

Union Leader Correspondent

April 11. 2018 11:06PM

GILMANTON — Selectmen responding to a suit filed against them by the police chief they hired are adamant he is subject to the same public oversight as any other town employee.

Chief Matt Currier sued selectmen in Belknap County Superior Court in February claiming selectmen overstepped when they approved policies in December dictating hours of coverage, staffing levels, lengths of shifts, use of cruisers and when officers might travel out of town.

Currier claimed the board of selectmen were micromanaging and had overstepped their authority under state law, which the chief contends gives police chiefs sole authority to direct and control police staff. The police chief is responsible for the efficient and economical use of all department equipment, not selectmen, Currier said.

In addition to the December policy directives, selectmen separately asked Currier to provide information related to background checks of the department’s officers.

A hearing set for Wednesday to determine whether a temporary restraining order granted to Currier should be continued was postponed after the town’s attorney informed the court he was stuck out of state due to a cancelled flight.

The restraining order bars selectmen from implementing or enforcing 17 policy directives that were to become effective on Jan. 1.

Representing Currier, attorney Ed Philpot of Laconia said the dispute stems from a “sincere difference of opinion” about the chief’s authority and oversight of the department.

In an affidavit filed with the court, Currier stated he is unwilling to implement the directives as they run contrary to his authority under state law. The chief claimed he was given an ultimatum to embrace the policies set by selectmen or to face discipline, including his firing.

In court records, Currier argued disclosing information from background investigations, polygraph tests and interviews exposes that information to “improper disclosure” and potential misuse.

The town’s attorney, Mark Broth of Manchester, argued selectmen are ultimately responsible for managing the town’s affairs, including the chief and police department.

Currier’s petition is the “latest manifestation of his ongoing refusal to provide information regarding the police department and its officers to the town’s governing body and to comply with written policies issued by his employer,” Broth stated in Wednesday court filings.

The elected board’s duties require it to stay informed as to police department activities, maintain regular communication with the chief and set clear policies for both the chief and his officers.

The dispute, Broth contended, has nothing to do with Currier’s authority to “direct and control” police officers within his department. Rather, selectmen intend to “direct and supervise” Currier, whom the town hired to discharge the duties outlined in state law and to issue high-level policies in furtherance of its responsibility to supervise the department as a whole, he said.

“It appears that Chief Currier wishes to remain employed as the chief of police for the Town of Gilmanton, but only if he is free to act in whatever manner he pleases, ignoring the directives of his employer, the Town,” Broth said.

The right of the board to establish standards of conduct against which the chief’s performance can be measured is implicit in RSA 105:1, the town’s attorney said. The board needs information to determine whether Currier is operating efficiently and following town policies, Broth said.

The suit names as plaintiffs Stephen McWhinnie, Michael Jean and Marshall Bishop in their capacity as selectmen. Jean was unseated in the March by challenger Michael Wilson.

Courts Public Safety Politics Gilmanton Gilmanton Ironw. Laconia

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