Why the mystery around Police Chief Kleber?

  • Athol Town Hall. Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli

Published: 10/5/2018 10:14:02 AM

Hang out on the street corners of Athol and you can probably hear the “real” story behind the mysterious resignation of Police Chief Russell Kelber. In fact, you will probably hear several “real” stories. And therein lies the problem with how these sorts of situations are handled these days. 

On Sept. 21, Kleber, a former FBI instructor who has been chief since 2016 and who has been on paid administrative leave since July 16 of this year, has now submitted a letter to Town Manager Shaun A. Suhoski resigning effective next May 31. In the meantime, Kleber will remain on paid leave, covered by a combination of unused accrued paid leave and paid administrative leave. The town will appoint an acting police chief for the interim and eventually appoint a new chief.

But what was wrong with the old chief?

The public apparently will never know the real story, and that’s a shame.

Suhoski in announcing the decision said both he and Kleber decided this action was in the “best interest of all parties.” This apparent mutual decision followed months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, we are left to assume.

Suhoski stated, notwithstanding the chief’s accomplishments, “the parties mutually believed that the fit between Chief 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.”

We are firm believers in transparency when it comes to positions of public trust like a police chief’s job. It helps voters, taxpayers and residents know what’s happening within their public service institutions and how well their elected officials, like the Selectboard, are doing their hiring and oversight job. In the absence of more information, the rumors are allowed to propagate and pose as truth.

Providing more information to the public about the circumstances that led to Kleber’s ouster could help dispel clouds of suspicion and reassure the public there was no criminal wrongdoing, which apparently there wasn’t, for example.

In announcing the resignation, the town noted several of Kleber’s accomplishments, including restoring a school resource officer, reinstating a K-9 program and instituting a citizen advisory committee, and it also noted the chief  initiated and presented the America’s KIDS (Keeping Innocents Defended and Safe) program to the public schools and community.

But clearly, despite these accomplishments, the town’s leaders had a problem they felt was best solved by Kleber’s departure. Maybe it was just a bad fit. But we don’t know.

We understand the need for privacy in purely personal matters and know that the state’s laws allow certain personnel matters to be shielded from public view, if they have nothing to do with professional competence. Town officials have deemed their Kleber problem a personnel matter, and have declined to offer any further comment. In such cases, the public statements made are the result of extensive negotiations between the parties. Yet, we feel that the public has a right to know more, if the information could be carefully calibrated not to violate anyone’s private information.

Throughout this process town officials have kept mum, presumably on sound legal advice. But without at least a bit more transparency, we will be left with the street-corner explanations –which usually are worse than the facts.

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