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Chapter 90 Enforcer
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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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