EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 8, 2014

Consentino comes under fire before election

Consentino on ballot in selectman's race Tuesday

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — ATKINSON — Former police chief Philip Consentino’s past has resurfaced as he makes a bid for the Board of Selectmen Tuesday.

Consentino, 73, was terminated as police chief and elderly affairs director on Feb. 27, 2013, “for cause.” Details about Consentino’s termination were sealed. But the former chief has been asked about it throughout his campaign.

He also has been the target of an anonymous, three-page letter reportedly being widely distributed in town, a letter listing 23 separate complaints about Consentino for behavior that allegedly occurred while he was police chief and elderly affairs director.

At a candidates’ forum Tuesday evening, resident Leon Artus asked Consentino and his opponent William Friel if either of them had been fired for cause from a town or political office because of a complaint from a female employee. There were audible groans from the audience when Artus asked his question.

“To answer your ongoing questions for a long period of time, I will answer it very clearly for you,” Consentino responded. “I am here tonight to answer any questions pertaining to the present way that the Board of Selectmen are being run and how it should be run in the future. If you have any questions on that, I will be more than happy to answer them for you.”

Resident Carol Grant then asked moderator Jim Garrity a follow-up question.

“Do you think it’s appropriate if someone has been fired for sexual harassment of a female in town that he should get away from answering it?” she said.

Consentino deflected that question, too.

“I’m not going to get into a discussion with you or anyone else on things that have happened in the past, because you do not have the facts,” Consentino said.

When reached yesterday, Consentino denied all allegations.

“I don’t know how any of that stuff has gotten out,” he said. “It’s all lies and I’m sick and tired of it.”

Pressed further, Consentino said he was contacting his attorney and hung up the phone.

Consentino did admit yesterday he had a link to Atkinson police dispatcher Lynne Cunningham, who received a settlement from the town in November.

Last year, Cunningham filed a complaint against the town with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights. The details of that complaint are sealed.

Cunningham and the town settled out of court for $50,000.

Joni Esperian, executive director of the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, said details regarding Cunningham’s settlement with the town were sealed.

“Because of our commission rules, we have a statute which imposes strict confidentiality from commission employees on cases that do not go to public hearing,” Esperian said.

Cunningham declined comment yesterday.

Consentino said yesterday he hired Cunningham’s husband to do carpentry work at his house.

“He was the best carpenter around,” Consentino said yesterday. “He was available 24/7. He did a lot of work for me in the house.”

Town Administrator Bill Innes said yesterday he could not comment on Consentino’s termination nor on the settlement with Cunningham.

“I can’t answer any of those questions,” he said. “They are part of sealed documents.”

Friel, now the selectmen’s chairman, is Consentino’s opponent Tuesday. He also was one of three selectmen who made the decision to terminate Consentino last winter. Friel declined to comment yesterday.

Former selectman Fred Childs, who also participated in that decision, could not be reached for comment yesterday. The third selectman, Todd Barbera, died in October.

Consentino was placed on paid administrative leave on Feb. 5, 2013, after selectmen hired an independent consulting firm to investigate him.

On Feb. 26, 2013, Consentino wrote a letter to selectmen, announcing his retirement as police chief and elderly affairs director.

“It is with sincere regret that due to some past and present health issues, and this weekend’s stay in the hospital, I am retiring,” Consentino wrote.

Although Consentino said his final day of work would be April 2, 2013, he wasn’t around that long.

One day later, selectmen issued a statement saying Consentino had been terminated.

“After review of the report completed by this independent consultant, the board determined that terminating Mr. Consentino from his town positions was appropriate,” the statement read.

The termination ended a long and colorful career with the town.

He was with the police department for 45 years and director of elderly affairs since he established that department some 20 years earlier.

His tenure as the head of elderly affairs was sometimes controversial, although he does have many loyal supporters among the town’s elderly population.

In 2008, the Charitable Trusts Unit of the Attorney General’s Office conducted a three-month inquiry into Consentino’s dual roles of police chief and elderly affairs director.

Detractors complained Consentino wielded too much power and controlled too many accounts, a system muddied by a lack of transparency and accountability.

The state agreed — to some extent. Some changes were made and the state appeared satisfied.

In 2011, the town paid Municipal Resources Inc. to do an independent audit of the police department. That 20-page report included about two dozen recommendations, ranging from updating policies and equipment to hiring more officers.

Consentino and selectmen appeared to have resolved their differences.

In 2012, there was an effort to move the elderly affairs department out of the police station. The effort failed.

Since Consentino’s termination, the two department’s have been separated. Elderly affairs now has a part-time director and operations will soon move to the Community Center.