DIXFIELD – At Monday’s meeting, selectmen and Town Manager Nanci Allard found themselves defending a March 3 majority vote.

That 3-2 vote, taken after an executive session on another topic at the request of a newly-elected board member, was to cut the town’s four-person police force to a three-person force.

The March 3 vote overturned a 2-2 tie vote taken Feb. 10 on the same issue.

Since that tally, resident Dana Picard, a former Dixfield police officer, drafted and began circulating a petition in town hoping to force selectmen to convene a special town meeting and explain why a majority sought to shrink the force.

“This petition is concerning the recent decision that was made by the town manager and selectmen without the input or even the presence of the chief, to reduce the police department,” Picard said, explaining that Chief Richard A. Pickett wasn’t present when the board re-voted the issue.

The petition further states that as of April 1, there would be no patrol coverage between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m. Instead, a majority of selectmen felt that an on-call officer could handle any incidents arising during this time, the petition states.

“On at least two different occasions the townspeople have voted to leave the department ‘as is,’ and yet the council has chosen to follow their own path. So we are requesting a special town meeting to address why the wishes of the town are not being followed by the voices that have been ‘elected’ to speak for us,” Picard said.

At Monday night’s meeting, both Picard and his wife, Lisa, and another resident John Daley grilled Selectmen Chairman Hugh Daley, the board and Allard about the reasoning behind that March 3 vote.

“At every town meeting for the last three years, people have voted for a four-man force. But selectmen have chosen to take that away from town meeting voters,” Dana Picard said.

“What’s the reason we have town meetings?” asked John Daley. “The board just throws out our vote.”

But Hugh Daley explained that Dixfield has a five-person Board of Selectmen and the majority rules. Both he and Selectman Montell Kennedy voted against reducing the police force and both bristled at Picard and John Daley implying that all selectmen sought the force reduction.

At one point, an outburst from Kennedy interrupted Allard while she was attempting to explain what she felt was misleading language in Picard’s petition.

“The chief was very well aware of this proposal before it came before the board,” Allard said. “The petition language is misleading, saying that he didn’t have any input.”

Kennedy, however, explained that she was misinterpreting the petition language.

“When we took the vote, (Pickett) was not present. That’s what the petition refers to,” Kennedy said.

Selectman Dan Mitchell, elected in March to fill the remaining four months of a vacated seat, said he requested the March 3 re-vote at a time when the board was considering hiring a fourth full-time officer who had successfully completed all the tests.

“We were about to hire another officer and he’d be laid off in June” if voters opted to go with a three-person force, Mitchell said, explaining why he voted for a reduced force. He then noted that if at town meeting in June, voters choose to go back to the four-person roster, they could hire the officer. However, that officer has since been hired by Rumford police, Picard said after the 30-minute discussion.

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