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Monson police chief contract in limbo
Friday, November 19, 2004
By LORI STABILE
[email protected]

MONSON - Several residents yesterday said they were shocked to learn that the Board of Selectmen does not plan to renew Police Chief Curtis M. McKenzie's contract.

William F. Nothe, known for his chalkboard messages outside his Sunoco gas station on Main Street, wrote about McKenzie, calling him the best police chief the town has had in years.

"It doesn't make any sense," Nothe said.

Council on Aging Director Judith H. White said McKenzie has been a great police chief, and even named an elder liaison to work with seniors. "He's always been very willing to help, chip in and be a team player. He's a hard-worker. He probably puts in 10-12 hours a day. Personally, I feel very badly," White said.

McKenzie, 41, was notified in a letter from selectmen last week that his three-year contract, which expires June 30, would not be renewed. Selectmen will take a formal vote on the contract at their meeting Tuesday. McKenzie made $64,939 in fiscal 2004, plus Quinn Bill incentives.

"People don't know the whole story," said Selectmen Chairman James Manning, adding more information should come out at the meeting.

Manning said the decision has nothing to do with the recent controversy over McKenzie's decision to nominate Sgt. Robert Shuemaker for the prestigious Trooper George L. Hanna Award given for bravery. Shuemaker was nominated for his actions inside the Magic Lantern strip club in May 2003. There, Shuemaker shot and killed Mark C. Merrill, who was wielding a large barbecue fork.

The Merrill family was outraged at the nomination, and the Executive Office of Public Safety decided to review the case again before determining if Shuemaker should receive the award. Shuemaker was cleared in the incident after an investigation by Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett's office.

"We were completely blind-sided by that, but it wasn't the factor that affected our decision," Manning said about McKenzie's nomination of Shuemaker.

Manning said when McKenzie was hired, he was told to focus on community policing.

"After 2½ years, we looked at it and said things aren't going in the direction we had wanted them to go," Manning said.

Still, some residents think the award controversy and strip club incident had a part to play in the selectmen's decision.

"You can't help but think it," Diane C. Boyle said. "I think he's done a really good job. He's certainly a part of the community and interested in the community."

Boyle is concerned about who selectmen will hire to replace him. "I have faith in the selectmen too. There are some good people on there. I'm sure they had reasons," Boyle said.

McKenzie spent 18 years with the Springfield Police Department, before leaving for the Monson job. He said he is disappointed by the selectmen's decision, adding working in Monson has been "an honor and a privilege." He doesn't regret taking the position.

"It was an opportunity for advancement. I made a lot of good friends in town and worked with a lot of quality town employees," McKenzie said.

There is MUCH more to this.....much much more
 
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