CROYDON — More than 60 residents packed into town hall Wednesday night to demand a re-vote on Town Meeting’s controversial measure to eliminate Croydon’s one-man police department.
Tense exchanges followed between newly-elected selectmen Joe Marko and Reagan Clarke as Marko tried to explain the board would not act on anything related to the Town Meeting vote to get rid of Chief Richard Lee.
Board Chairman Gary Quimby was not present but called in to the meeting, as he was delayed in returning from a vacation.
“Nothing’s going to be addressed until all of us are sitting here,” Marko said. “It’s not going to get out of hand, we’re not going to turn it into a circus.”
Brenda Williams had given selectmen a petition with more than 100 signatures calling for the special town meeting, as allowed for under New Hampshire law.
However, Williams was required to wait an hour before she could turn in her petition. The first hour of the meeting was taken up with Marko and Clarke signing warrants and doing paperwork, while residents in the audience demanded to see a published agenda.
Marko, at one point, threatened to have the meeting held in private if those in attendance didn’t settle down. When challenged, Marko was unable to cite a legal exemption to public meetings law to make that move.
“Gary says we’re not going to discuss this any further,” Marko said at one point in the meeting.
“Oh yes we will,” responded resident Jim Bridgeo.
Bridgeo is against the March 16 vote of 48-36 to eliminate the Croydon Police Department and to enter into a contract with the Newport department for coverage.
Croydon does not presently have a written contract proposal from Newport and Chief Lee is calling the surprise March 16 town vote illegal.
Bridgeo said contracting with Newport for police coverage is a mistake.
Marko and Clarke maintained they could not move forward on anything to do with the police department and Lee without Quimby in attendance.
Speaking via phone through board secretary Cathy Peschke, Quimby said that the board would not do anything until a review of the department was complete.
The town contracted with consulting firm MRI to review Lee and his department in October. Lee said Wednesday night he had had one conversation with the MRI consultant, and the town has yet to see any report.
Lee has taken issue with the way Marko has allegedly characterized the review. Marko has said on social media that Lee is being investigated, according to a letter Lee handed to selectmen Wednesday night. Lee said calling the review an investigation is false and misleading and his letter demands Marko stop.
Williams said delaying until the MRI review report is complete is typical of town officials.
“It’s another one of their backdoor stall tactics,” Williams said.
Attorney Michael Shklar, who drafted the petition Williams handed in, said the town may not have the ability to wait for the review. By law, the board must hold a special town meeting once it verifies that the signatures Williams turned in are in fact from registered voters, Shklar said.
Shklar, the town moderator in Lempster, is not at this time representing Lee, but he has consulted with the chief and a few town residents. Shklar said that towns with fewer than 10,000 residents can call for special town meetings with as few as 50 votes. Croydon’s population is around 760 people.
Lee, who has been chief for 19 years, thanked the people who came out Wednesday night, saying even if the town eventually votes to oust him, he will respect a process that includes informed voters.
“I can live with that,” Lee said.