PARIS — Two of the Police Department’s top brass have given notice, citing the toxic political environment in town and instability in the department’s future.
On April 11, Detective Richard Belanger put in his resignation and on Monday, April 25, interim police chief Jeff Lange filed his.
Belanger’s last day was April 23, and he is now working as judicial marshal at the Paris courthouse. Lange’s last day is Friday, May 20, and he heads to Wiscasset to become police chief.
“The atmosphere is too negative in town and it is not a healthy working environment for any employee in the town of Paris right now,” Lange said from his Market Square office on Tuesday.
After the adoption of the town budget last June, selectmen and town administration sought to cut $500,000 from municipal spending after many residents asked for tax relief.
In his resignation letter, Lange noted he “spent countless hours attempting to ‘save’ the department from being dismantled,” only to have selectmen move forward with offering voters a chance to contract with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office in Paris. He wrote that he “revised and revised his budget,” offering a cut of nearly $108,000 for fiscal year 2016-17 — the largest of any town department.
“Getting rid of a department wasn’t a discussion,” Lange said Tuesday. “I feel there are people who have agendas and that is unfortunate.”
“Unfortunately, I do not feel there is any stability for the longevity of this department,” Lange wrote in his letter. “Despite the hard work and dedication of every police officer on this department, I believe there is a fundamental lack of respect for the town’s employees.”
Belanger echoed his former boss’ sentiments in his resignation letter.
“It was my long-term goal to finish my law enforcement career here in the town of Paris,” Belanger wrote. “Unfortunately, due to the current political environment and potential department instability, I do not feel that it would be in my best interest to continue my employment with the town.”
Lange recommended Sgt. Hartley “Skip” Mowatt for the position of interim chief.
“Skip has the knowledge and ability to lead the Paris Police Department and we have worked very close over the last year doing so,” Lange wrote.
The outgoing chief noted in his letter he was a proponent of free speech, but pointed to public comments made by selectmen at meetings and online.
“The disregard that is displayed by elected officials when discussing the members of my department or other town service members in public and on social media is unacceptable, and in my opinion, unethical,” he wrote. “The obvious lack of empathy displayed by certain ‘leaders’ of the town of Paris toward members of the Police Department and other departments in the town that stand to lose their livelihood is remarkable.”
After Belanger’s resignation, Lange announced the promotion of Officer Mike Dailey, who has served in every position within the Police Department, including detective.
Lange arrived in Paris in October 2013. He was later promoted to lieutenant and then interim police chief in April 2015, when Michael Madden was promoted to interim town manager while then-Town Manager Amy Bernard was on maternity leave.
Bernard left Paris in December 2015 to be town manager in Newry, saying she was doing what was best for her family, which included leaving the current political environment.
Selectmen Chairman Mike Risica and Interim Town Manager Sawin Millett wrote in separate emails to the Advertiser Democrat they were sad to see Lange go.
“I am greatly disappointed in the news regarding Chief Lange’s resignation,” Risica said. “I truly believe he had the best interests of Paris at heart and he will be missed. The political atmosphere in town is extremely volatile and this has taken a toll on the morale of the police department and other employees that work closely with them.”
Millett, who was hired as interim town manager in December, said, “Jeff has brought boundless energy and has devoted untold hours in building a professional and highly competent Paris Police Department. I am very sad to see him leave us at this critical time, but I can certainly understand the strain he has been under, and the frustration he has felt, as a result of the recent focus on contracting out law enforcement services here in the second largest town in Oxford County.”
Paris voters will decide June 14 whether to contract with the Sheriff’s Office. Depending on the outcome, they then will address funding either the Police Department or Sheriff’s Office at the town meeting June 18.