ATKINSON — The future of the police chief’s position has taken another turn. In a special meeting Saturday morning, selectmen reversed course and decided to keep the position part time.
“It’s our reaction to the feedback we’ve gotten from town,” Selectman Fred Thompson said.
In October, selectmen announced they would be making the position full time after recommendations from two consultants. But after resident Brian Boyle filed a citizen’s petition earlier this month to keep the job part time, Thompson said selectmen realized it’s what residents want.
“It was a strong likelihood that that article would have passed and directed us to keep it part time,” Thompson said. “We decided we’d rather make that change now, so we can prepare for the financial ramifications that decision would have had.”
Boyle said he was pleased selectmen have changed their minds.
“I’m encouraged to hear that the selectmen had a change of heart,” Boyle said. “It’s always the safest thing to let the voters decide on changes that have a big impact to the town.”
Town Administrator Bill Innes said making the position full time would have saved the town between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. Instead, they will now shift money around in the budget to account for a part-time chief.
“It needs to be funded properly,” Thompson said. “We don’t feel that number would account for what we need from the position.”
Three people have filled the position within the last year. In February, long-time chief Philip Consentino was terminated from the position for “cause.”
Sgt. Patrick Caggiano then filled the position on an interim basis. He announced in December he would retire from the department after the town chose to conduct an open search for the permanent chief.
Since Caggiano retired, Rockingham County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Al Brackett has served as interim chief. Brackett has said he is not interested in the permanent position.
The search for a full-time chief was already underway, but revamping the search will likely delay things.
“It could be anywhere from a month later to even two to three months,” Innes said.
Innes had hoped to have a new chief in place by the end of February.
The town had received 45 resumes and had handed them over to the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police earlier this month. But now, Thompson said, he is worried about the quality of the chief they will get for the position.
“One of my major concerns is that you’ll severely decrease the qualified candidates by making it part time,” Thompson said. “It makes it less likely that the chief will stay for a long time, creating a revolving door at that position for years to come.”
Innes said the town will proceed, despite his beliefs that the town still needs a full-time chief.
“The NHPCA and Chief Brackett both think we need a full-time chief,” Innes said. “Reports and studies say we need a full-time chief. We think there’s a need, but we don’t think the town residents as a whole are ready to make that transition and the selectmen take direction from residents.”
Innes said the part-time position will be 25 hours per week. The salary and benefits have yet to be determined.
“If we want a good chief, obviously we are going to have to pay for that,” Innes said.