Orange, Athol may share police chief services

Published: 10/11/2018 12:14:40 AM

REGION — Orange Town Administrator Gabriele H. Voelker and Athol Town Manager Shaun A. Suhoski are developing the framework of an agreement to have the abutting communities share the services of Orange Police Chief Craig Lundgren from Nov. 1 to the end of the current fiscal year, June 30, 2019.

Athol Police Chief Russell Kleber, who was placed on paid administrative leave on July, 16, submitted a letter to Suhoski on Sept. 21 resigning his position with the town effective May 31, 2019.

According to a statement released Sept. 28, “The decision to resign was difficult, but Chief Kleber and the Town Manager — who accepted the resignation — ultimately felt this action was in the best interests of all parties.

During his tenure with the town, Kleber and the department made several strides forward including restoring a school resource officer, re-instating a K-9 program and instituting a citizen advisory committee. Kleber also initiated and presented the America’s KIDS (Keeping Innocents Defended and Safe) program to the public schools and community.

Notwithstanding those accomplishments, the parties mutually believed that the fit between Kleber and the Athol Police Department was not sustainable and that all parties would be best served if the chief resigned his position and sought opportunities elsewhere.

Suhoski stated that Kleber will remain on leave through the effective date of his resignation during which period he will be compensated via a combination of his unused accrued paid leave and paid administrative leave.

Retired Athol Police Chief Timothy Anderson, who served in Athol for 34 years, 15 of those years as chief, was named temporary acting chief from July 17 through Aug. 10, and compensated through an appropriation from the police department’s budget.

Presently, Athol Lt. Ron Cote, who has been with the force for more than 30 years, is in charge of the day-to-day operations.

Shared service agreement

The shared service agreement would essentially provide that each community would receive fifty percent of Chief Lundgren’s time during the workweek and be responsible for fifty percent of the cost of the position.

This agreement would strengthen the command ability and structure of each town’s professional staff and would build internal capacity for advancement in each town’s department. Athol will also benefit from having direct access to an experienced police chief who is familiar with the region and personnel, enhancing the skills and experience of the staff. “It’s an opportunity for neighboring communities to help each other,” said Voelker. “It’s a win-win. The savings to each town would also be substantial.”

The officials stressed that the proposal is temporary, and will have opt-out language should any of the parties feel the arrangement is not meeting expectations. They plan to present a formal proposal to their respective boards of selectmen at posted public meetings this month. The Orange Selectboard will meet Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the Orange Town hall. The Athol Selectboard’s next meeting is Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. in the Athol Town Hall, Room 21.

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