CLINTON — The Board of Selectmen balked on Tuesday night at reappointing Police Chief Craig Johnson, leaving the town’s top law enforcement official in limbo.

The board took up Johnson’s reappointment, but a motion made by Selectman Randy Clark to confirm him did not draw a second from any of the other three selectmen at the meeting, meaning the motion failed.

Selectman Ronnie Irving said people in town want to explore getting a new police chief, and he’d like to consider that.

“That’s what they want,” Irving said.

Clark criticized Irving’s desire to replace the chief and said that during the budget discussions, Irving never raised any residents’ concerns about the Police Department or mention their displeasure with Johnson.

“You should have clarified that,” Clark said.

In Clinton, the police chief is one of the department heads appointed by the town manager, but the chief’s appointment is subject to approval by the Board of Selectmen before it becomes official.

Board Chairman Jeffrey Towne, reading a legal opinion from the Maine Municipal Association, said if the chief is not reappointed, he will be “held over” in the position until a successor is found or he is reappointed later.

Towne said the matter would come forward at another meeting when the full board is in attendance. Selectman Geraldine Dixon was absent from the meeting.

Resident Mike Walton said Clinton residents ought to have a chance to weigh in on replacing the police chief. He said he’d be able to find just as many people who want to keep him in Clinton as those who are opposed to him.

Johnson said he wanted to get more information on the situation before commenting.

The board’s lack of action on the chief’s reappointment came minutes after it adjourned a public hearing on the budgets for the Police Department and code enforcement, town assessor, building inspection and health office. Voters rejected the funding requests on June 9.

Residents at the meeting supported the department, though they raised questions about whether the town can find ways to cut the budget.

“I think people want to see if they can get it done any cheaper,” resident Jim McFarland said. He asked whether it’s possible to cut the Clinton force’s patrol hours back to 100 and contract with the Kennebec Sheriff’s Office for the rest.

Resident Stanley Bell, also a sergeant with the Police Department, said if the town went from 156 hours of police service to 84 by relying more on the county, it would save only $20,000.

Towne said added costs related to contracting out police services would erode those savings, as buying into the regional dispatch center would cost well beyond $20,000.

Resident Bill Halliday said close to 6,400 emergency 911 calls came from Clinton, and it was in the 4,000 range last year. He said that’s an indicator Clinton shouldn’t do anything to cut its police presence.

“As time goes on, we need police in the town,” he said.

On June 9, voters struck down the proposed $241,673 police budget by a 150-140 vote and the $41,358 budget for the town assessor, code enforcement, building inspection and health office by a 151-139 vote.

The selectmen scheduled a special town meeting on the revised budgets for Aug. 18.

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