KITTERY — The town’s police chief and town manager resigned their jobs Monday night, with both blaming resistance to reform from police unions and interference from town councilors.
Town Manager Robert. T. Markel said he accepted Police Chief Paul G. Callaghan’s resignation reluctantly and the Town Council voted 4-3 to accept Markel’s resignation, which he handed in just moments after Callaghan told councilors Monday night that he was stepping down.
Markel said Callaghan told him last week that he was going to resign after deciding that the fighting with the unions over changes in policies he wanted to implement wasn’t likely to end soon. Markel said he decided that Callaghan’s resignation would compromise his own ability to manage city departments and decided, “If he goes, I go.”
Markel said three councilors — Jeffrey Brake, George V. Dow and Leo Guy — had urged him to fire Callaghan. Markel refused, setting the stage for “permanent alienation (and) I don’t think I can manage effectively while engaged in trench warfare with three town councilors,” he said. “It would have been death from a thousand paper cuts.”
Brake, however, said the controversy stems from the manager’s and chief’s refusal to release a report on the police department by an outside consultant.
The consultant was hired to look into allegations of favoritism by Callaghan in the department after officers said their union had voted in September that it had no confidence in Callaghan, but the town manager and police chief refused to turn over the report, Brake said.
Both Callaghan and Markel said the report can’t be made public because it contains personnel records.
Markel said he told Callaghan to implement several of the recommendations from the report — such as regular meetings with the police unions, upgrading training procedures and purchasing some new equipment — and the chief had done so.
Calls to Dow, Guy and representatives of the police unions were not returned.
Markel said Callaghan, who was an officer in Rochester, N.H., before being hired by Kittery, had made some “rookie mistakes” in his first year as a police chief, but they were outweighed by the good he had done, including hiring the town’s first female police officer.
Callaghan said he instituted some policy changes and restructured the department after taking over early this year. For instance, he said the department had six sergeants and 10 patrol officers and he felt that was top-heavy.
One sergeant was reassigned to patrol duty, one quit and a third retired, Callaghan said, allowing him to shift some positions to patrol.
Callaghan said he also ordered changes in firearms training to make it more focused on the situational use of guns, instead of just firing at a target in a firing range. He also said injured officers could return to work earlier for light office duty than had been the case, and workouts were to be conducted during off-hours, rather than as part of an officer’s shift.
Callaghan replaced former police chief George Strong, who had been chief for more than 25 years before retiring in 2011. He said he had anticipated that any changes would meet resistance after the departure of a long-time police chief.
“Change is difficult for people,” he said. “The first one that goes through the door (after Strong) is going to get bloody — I expected that. I just didn’t expect the steady drip, drip, drip (of controversy). The town didn’t need this continual grind and constant complaints.”
Markel said the animosity the changes created surprised him.
He said he tried to shake Brake’s hand the first time they met after Brake was elected to the council in November.
“He didn’t even say hello, ” Markel said, “He said, ‘You need to fire the police chief.’ “
Brake, however, said he’s ready to move on.
“It’s pretty sad that we have to go through all this because Kittery’s a nice town,” he said. “We’re trying to move forward here and I guess now we can.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: