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Croydon voters eliminate position of police chief

  • Croydon Police Chief Richard Lee listens to discussion during the annual school meeting at the Croydon, N.H. town hall Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/18/2019 10:02:09 PM
Modified: 3/18/2019 10:04:52 PM

CROYDON — Residents at Town Meeting on Saturday voted to contract with the town of Newport for police services beginning July 1, which would phase out the Croydon Police Department and end the 19-year tenure of Croydon Police Chief Richard Lee.

Lee, a retired Newport officer, said the vote came as a surprise to him and he felt it was last minute, but Selectman Gary Quimby said talk of restructuring policing in the town of 757 residents has been ongoing for some time.

Some people in town were looking for a change in policing and had expressed complaints about the way Lee allocated his time, among other issues, Quimby said.

The Selectboard on Saturday made a motion asking the townspeople if they wanted to start using Newport police instead of an in-house agency, according to Quimby.

The motion passed on a paper-ballot vote of 48-36, according to results provided by the town clerk. Quimby said the vote was binding.

But since residents cast their ballots, Quimby said he has heard there has been discussion about whether or not the vote was legal. The Selectboard — two of three members are new — hasn’t met since Town Meeting, but will discuss the situation when they do and perhaps consult with an attorney, he said.

“I obviously don’t want it to turn into a circus,” Quimby said.

Croydon resident Domenic Di Maggio said he had made a motion to ask residents if they wanted to stay with the current setup with Lee or contract with Newport, but did not intend for the vote to be binding.

“It was basically a poll because it’s not a warrant article,” he asserted.

The town doesn’t yet have a contract with Newport police for its services, but has quotes from Newport Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg about what police, ambulance and dispatch services might cost, according to a March 1 email Rieseberg wrote to former Croydon Selectboard Chairwoman Carol Marsh, who has since stepped down.

Rieseberg said it would cost about $55,000 per year for police services, $35,000 for ambulance and EMS services and $10,325 for dispatch services.

Voters at Town Meeting approved $41,000 for policing as part of the broader budget, the figure Lee had submitted for his budget.

Voters at Town Meeting amended the dispatch services line in the budget to match Newport’s figure for dispatch services, cutting about $3,000. Croydon has been relying on New London for dispatch and ambulance services

Lee, who would remain chief until July 1, said he isn’t sure what his fate with the town will be after that. Right now, he said he doesn’t even know which dispatch he should be reporting to.

He said he has been fielding calls from residents since the meeting asking him “how could this happen.”

He said he feels people were confused about what they were voting on at the time the ballots were cast on Saturday.

Lee, who works 32 hours in Croydon and doesn’t have a formal contract with the town, claims the Selectboard didn’t provide its residents with enough warning that the topic would be up for a vote.

“We should have had public meetings about this,” said Lee, who began working for Croydon on a part-time basis in the early 2000s, when he was also working for Newport Police.

Residents at Croydon Town Meeting in 2018 defeated a proposal from Lee to increase his salary by 43 percent, instead granting him a 2 percent cost of living increase.

Selectboard Administrative Assistant Cathy Peschke said on Monday that the topic of police coverage was discussed months’ prior to Saturday’s Town Meeting.

The Dec. 12 Selectboard meeting minutes indicate that the board informed Lee that the town signed a contract with Municipal Resources Inc. to review the police department. At the final budget hearing on Jan. 29, the Selectboard said it was considering moving the Croydon Police Department to contracted services and eliminating the department altogether. Lee attended that meeting, according to meeting minutes.

Peschke had a different understanding than Quimby of how the vote came to fruition on Saturday.

She said a resident from the floor, not the Selectboard, made the motion to switch to Newport. Like Di Maggio, she also said the vote was nonbinding and the topic would need to be voted on by the full Selectboard. Quimby disagreed on both of those fronts though and called it a “done deal.”

And incoming Selectman Joseph Marko, who was elected by Australian ballot last week and sworn in on Monday, said he considers the vote to be binding as long as a deal can be reached with Newport.

“The vote is binding as long as the contract continues to progress,” he said.

Rieseberg, the Newport town manager, said he will wait to hear from the Croydon Selectboard about whether to proceed with a formal contract.

The Newport Selectboard would then need to vote on whether to approve it, he said.

At the Croydon School District meeting on Saturday afternoon, the $1.48 million budget for the 2019-2020 school year passed with an amendment to reduce a $5,000 line item for testing to $2,500.

Voters also approved raising $167,091 in taxes to reduce a deficit from the 2017-18 school year.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.




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