CROYDON — Voters are getting their wish to have a special town meeting on the fate of the town’s one-man police department, but what the meeting can legally accomplish remains to be seen.
Selectman Joe Marko said Tuesday night that the meeting is set for May 11 at 9 a.m., but he has been told by the town’s attorney that any vote in May will be non-binding.
The controversy over the police department, staffed by Chief Richard Lee for the past 19 years, boiled over after a surprise March Town Meeting vote the would have eliminated the department and contracted police service with the town of Newport.
Marko said he and newly appointed selectman Ian Underwood have been informed by counsel that the March vote was unlawful and there will be no change to Newport.
“There’s nothing to vote on, since the vote was illegal,” Marko said.
Marko and Underwood both expressed their desire to move on and deal with more pressing issues than the police department. Marko said if there was to be a change, it would have to come through an open, public process of meetings and hearings. He’d also like to see any decision like that made through a referendum.
“There’s too much to be fixed right now, and there’s a ton of expenses,” Marko said.
Marko did his best to assure the more than 50 people in the town hall that he and Underwood will not move to get rid of Lee and the department, giving people his word.
“I have two things, my word and my bike,” Marko said.
The special meeting will go forward, and allow voters to weigh in on the police department, though any vote will be advisory, Marko and Underwood said.
“It’s purely an exercise in feeling good,” Underwood said.
A feel-good exercise would be a change of pace for this town of 750 people that’s been divided since the vote. The controversy over the March Town Meeting has led to the resignations of selectmen Gary Quimby and Reagan Clarke, and the board’s secretary, Cathy Peschke. Underwood was appointed by Marko and Clarke before Clarke resigned during a recent emergency board meeting held after Quimby resigned.
While some in town have questioned the legality of the emergency meeting and Underwood’s appointment, Underwood and Marko defended the appointment, saying that if the board was allowed to get down to one member, the state would step in to temporarily run the town. When asked, Underwood and Marko said that they had not sought legal advice about the appointment.
It’s not clear how long the board will operate with two members. Marko tried to appoint resident Scott Campbell on Tuesday night, but Campbell rejected the offer. Campbell ran for the office in March and came up short during the election.
“If I was elected when the whole election thing went on, I would gladly do it and I would give 110 percent,” Campbell said.
“Now with all this (expletive) going on, I’m not going to be there when the ship sinks.”