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Board votes to end chief's tenure
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
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MONSON - Amid shouts from angry residents, the Board of Selectmen voted last night to end Police Chief Curtis M. McKenzie's tenure when his contract expires on June 30.

About 100 people, many angry over the board's decision, crammed into the selectmen's meeting room, booing and shouting, after board members announced that they would not provide any additional information about why McKenzie's contract would not be renewed after next year.

"As with any personnel matter, it would not be legally prudent," said Selectwoman Kathleen C. Norbut, reading from a statement.

Voting unanimously were Selectmen Norbut, James Manning and Richard E. Guertin.

McKenzie, said he plans to stay on until midnight June 30 when his contract expires.

"I love this town," he said. "I gave them (selectmen) everything I told them I would. This has been very traumatic for me and my family, but my door's always open. Feel free to come in and try to cheer me up."

Norbut said the board had given full and fair consideration to their decision.

But residents were not happy. Michael J. Dalterio carried a sign which read "Support Chief McKenzie" on one side and "Recall the Monson Board of Selectmen" on the other.

"I feel utterly misrepresented by the people that were elected to represent us," David J. Xanatos said. "We've had no input into what these people are deciding."

He said he plans to launch a Web site which will feature a message board and information about events planned in support of McKenzie.

Some residents threatened to recall the Board of Selectmen, though it was unclear last night whether the town has a recall bylaw.

Not all of those in attendance supported McKenzie. After the chief was ordered by selectmen to clear the crowd from their meeting room, residents congregated in the hallway.

Dee Scott said she did not support the chief, and was critical of the fatal shooting of Mark Merrill last year by Sgt. Robert K. Shuemaker. Merrill had threatened an officer, led police on a chase, and then approached Shuemaker with a large barbecue fork when cornered at the Magic Lantern strip club.

"You must think the cops are really incompetent if they couldn't handle that - it was a barbecue fork," Scott said.

Shuemaker was cleared of any wrongdoing in an investigation by Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett.

Manning said previously that the decision not to renew McKenzie's contract had nothing to do with his controversial decision to nominate Shuemaker for a prestigious state award for bravery after the shooting.

McKenzie said he appreciated the residents and police chiefs who turned out to support him. Present were chiefs from several area towns, including former Warren Police Chief Ronald Syriac, who was the subject of a similar action in 2002 when selectmen cut the length of his contract.

Some of the chiefs said they feared selectmen in their own towns could dismiss them by failing to renew their contracts.

McKenzie was chosen for the job in February 2002, and given a three-year contract which expires on June 30. He earned $64,939 in fiscal 2004, plus Quinn Bill incentives.

He said he will receive a severance package that will cost the town about $40,000.

Odds against recall help for chief
Thursday, November 25, 2004
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MONSON - While the creator of a newly launched Web site supporting Police Chief Curtis M. McKenzie wants selectmen to be recalled, ousting the entire three-member board could take more than a year and probably wouldn't save the chief's job.

Selectmen Tuesday voted before an audience of about 100 to end McKenzie's employment as of June 30, when his contract ends.

McKenzie said after the meeting that he still doesn't know why he's losing his job. A letter sent to him by the board a week earlier offered no explanation, and despite comments from selectmen that more information would be released at their meeting Tuesday, the board has remained mum, citing legal reasons.

"The people want me, the police want me, I don't know why the selectmen don't want me," McKenzie said.

Some residents speculated that McKenzie is not getting a new contract because of a shooting at the Magic Lantern strip club in May 2003. In that incident, Monson Police Sgt. Robert K. Shuemaker shot Mark C. Merrill who, after wielding a knife when he was stopped by police, led officers on a chase and then threatened Shuemaker and McKenzie with a large barbecue fork when he was found inside the club. Shuemaker was cleared in the incident and McKenzie subsequently nominated him for a prestigious state Hanna Award for bravery. The state Department of Public Safety continues to mull over whether or not they'll issue the award to Shuemaker.

Selectmen have denied that the shooting or the nomination played a role in their decision. Still, the vote outraged many residents, including David J. Xanatos, who yesterday launched on the Internet in support of the chief. But while Xanatos and others are threatening to recall the board, McKenzie would probably be gone before they could force an election.

Monson voters have never approached the state Legislature seeking to have a recall provision approved. To do that, residents would first have to approve an article at a Town Meeting. That could take several weeks. Then the Legislature would have to move the bill through both houses and onto the governor's desk for approval.

"It is a local matter," Secretary of State William Galvin said yesterday. "It's not a bylaw; either the town has a provision in the charter or it's done by a special act of the Legislature."

While the legislative process can happen quickly, the Statehouse is in transition with the session essentially over and newly elected representatives and senators settling in when the new session starts in January.

A similar petition sought by Warren residents in 1997 took 10 months to gain approval from the state.

A spokesman for State Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, said that he would try to push the measure through if townspeople approved it.

Xanatos said he's also looking at other options. A newly registered voter who cast his first ballot ever in the recent presidential election, Xanatos said he's filling his days reading town bylaws and looking for ways to make selectmen more accountable, and a recall is just one method he's considering. "I want accountability in town government," he said. "They're dug in like ticks ... I want to make sure these people never come back."
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