DIXFIELD – Selectmen voted 3-2 Monday to not reappoint police Chief Richard Pickett because comments he made about them at the annual town meeting in May were considered “insubordinate,” Chairman Bettina Martin said Tuesday.

The vote followed a 45-minute closed-door session and a public disciplinary hearing where two dozen townspeople were barred from speaking.

Pickett turned in his badge to Town Manager Tom Richmond on Monday evening. The retired Maine State Police trooper and detective has been Dixfield’s police chief for about 10 years.

Pickett did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday; his wife referred inquiries to his attorney, Phil Coffin, of Portland.

Coffin said by phone that Pickett has several options, including filing a wrongful termination suit against the town. That decision will likely be made within the next 30 days.

Coffin said Pickett could do nothing, which he doubts will happen, or enter into negotiations with town officials.

“I was really surprised by the decision of the board,” Coffin said.

He said Pickett’s contract was not renewed allegedly because at the annual town meeting in May he made comments that were considered insubordinate to selectmen and implied they were incompetent.

“That was not his intent,” Coffin said. “Any comments made by him at town meeting are protected by the First Amendment.”

A majority of people at the May meeting voted to reinstate a fourth member of the Police Department after a most selectmen recommended that the department be reduced from four full-time officers to three.

At that meeting, Pickett said selectmen had previously OK’d a fourth patrolman, but changed their minds while he was away on vacation.

Martin said it was due to a budget crunch they didn’t know about when they gave him the OK.

Voters also backed Pickett’s police budget request for $290,769, which is nearly $53,000 more than what selectmen wanted.

Although Pickett chose to have the disciplinary hearing in public Monday night, no public comment was allowed from the two dozen people attending.

Reached by telephone early Tuesday afternoon, Martin would say only that the board held a disciplinary hearing regarding derogatory comments made at the May 22 town meeting and that the vote was 3-2 not to renew Pickett’s contract.

“(Pickett’s) behavior was not considered acceptable against the administration and the board. We considered it insubordinate,” Martin said.

Selectman Raymond Carlton made the motion not to renew Pickett’s annual contract, and it was seconded by Jim Desjardins. Martin voted with them.

Voting against the motion were Selectmen Brad Dyer and Norine Clarke.

Clarke said she voted in the minority because she believes Pickett’s remarks were not a “fireable” offense.

“I did not agree with the decision,” she said Tuesday afternoon.

Richmond said the police department’s three full-time officers, Eric Bernier, Jeff Howe and Chuck Beale, and several reserve officers will assure that 24-hour police coverage is maintained while the town searches for an interim, then a full-time police chief.

He said an emergency selectmen’s meeting has been set for 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“The position is there and we need to fill it,” Richmond said.

He said possible interim police chief candidates will come from within and outside the department.

Martin said Wednesday’s special meeting is crucial.

“This really has to be taken care of right away,” she said.

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