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Police Chief Screening Meeting Gets Heated

December 20, 2018

By Stephen Landry

slandry@sentinel andenterprise.com

WESTMINSTER -- The atmosphere quickly became heated during what should have been a routine meeting of the Police Chief Screening Committee Wednesday night.

Although the purpose of the meeting was to approve the minutes from previous meetings, things became heated almost immediately after Chair Loraine Emerson called the session to order -- that’s when member H. Christopher Redkey made a motion to dismiss two of his fellow committee members.

In a statement, Redkey accused Ashburnham Police Chief Loring Barrett Jr. and John Fairbanks of making comments that he said indicated the two were not being objective in their roles on the committee.

Redkey said Barrett Jr. had told a fellow officer during a golf outing in Townsend that the committee’s process was “just a formality” and that the position of the next chief of police “was Mike’s job,” a reference to Acting Police Chief Michael McDonald, who is one of six finalists for the position.

“That mere statement shows bias and possible unethical actions with regards to this committee,” Redkey said.

Barrett Jr. strenuously denied the allegation.

“Absolutely I did not say that -- one-hundred percent,” Barrett Jr. said. “I could sit here on a stack of Bibles, I can tell you that I didn’t make that comment.”

Redkey accused Fairbanks of having an improper meeting with McDonald and not disclosing that fact to the committee. He said the incident showed a clear conflict of interest on Fairbanks’ part.

But Fairbanks denied he had ever had improper contact with any of the candidates.

“What Mr. Redkey says is absolutely false,” Fairbanks said. “That is a total fabrication and lie.”

Redkey made a motion to expel Barrett Jr. and Fairbanks from the committee, but Emerson said the action was beyond the scope of the meeting’s purpose. She added that the committee did not have any authority to remove members.

“That (power) falls with the Board of Selectmen, the board who appointed us,” Emerson said.

The process of searching for a new police chief has become turbulent in recent weeks, after Redkey filed an Open Meeting Law complaint with the state Attorney General’s office, an action which resulted in the committee’s previous chair, Steve Hemman, stepping down from the position. Redkey said an encounter between Hemman and McDonald, which was caught on surveillance tape, illustrated that some board members were not being objective in their duties.

Officer Nate Hawkins is facing disciplinary action from selectmen after he admitted to violating department procedure in making a copy of the tape available to Redkey. Hawkins said he was acting as a whistleblower and trying to expose possible corruption in the search process.

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