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New England News

Small Town Remains Divided By Loyalties

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Jim Levulis
/
WAMC

For much of 2013 and 2014 the small Berkshire County town of Hinsdale was embroiled in a struggle over its police chief, an issue that splintered the town. And there may be a new chief, but the divide remains.In January 2014, the Hinsdale Select Board fired Nancy Daniels, a 13-year veteran of the town’s police force who became chief a year earlier. Two board members, Select Chair Bonnie Conner and member Bill Goddard said the reason was Daniels’ failure to complete the necessary training to serve as a full-time chief. Daniels was put on paid administrative leave in November 2013 because her waiver to serve without the training had expired. A year later, Daniels stands firm that Select Chair Conner has had a bone to pick with the former chief since she was elected in May 2013.

“I feel it was a personal vendetta,” said Daniels.

Conner has consistently denied any vendetta, saying the reason for the firing was the lack of training.

“I don’t bother Nancy Daniels,” said Conner.

Daniels says she wasn’t able to complete the training because of an ankle injury and a hysterectomy. Conner wrote a letter to the state’s Municipal Police Training Committee requesting a waiver extension for Daniels, but left out the injuries and surgery. Conner said she didn’t feel comfortable discussing another person’s health. The request was denied and Conner refused to write another letter.

The feud largely divided those at town meetings between two camps, Conner or Daniels. People have been escorted out by local police at town meetings and state troopers have been called on several occasions. The Select Board has taken the public comment period on and off the agenda as people have ranted about various issues and town officials, with one citizen even throwing a water bottle at the Select Board. Here’s what Conner said after that meeting in January 2014.

“They can have their tantrums,” Conner said. “They can do what they want. They’re not going to hold me hostage. They’re not going to hold this town hostage and that’s all there is to it.”

Daniels says she has filed discrimination, retaliation and pain and suffering claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After that works itself out, she plans to file a lawsuit against the town claiming she was unjustly treated. Unemployed and saying she’s gone through a bout of depression, Daniels says she tries to stay out of the public eye. But she says the Board had her removed from a meeting last month after claiming she was being harassed by a town official.

“Pushing my buttons and lately being under the stress I’ve been under, I just shouldn’t even go to those meetings anymore,” said Daniels.

Following an interim police chief, Mark Smith, a 20-year veteran of the Granby Police Department, was sworn in as Hinsdale’s chief in July. He did not return multiple calls for comment.

Daniels says she has applied to serve as a part-time officer. Reached by phone this week, Conner says nothing has changed in town and public comment remains off the agenda. In a December 2013 interview, Conner says she wanted to serve on the board to straighten out town politics.

“There has been a network here,” Conner said. “There has been harassment. There’s been targeting. It just has gotten to the point where it’s totally out of hand and you would like to bring it back to being the nice community that it is.”

After a petition circulated calling for the resignation of Conner, town voters overwhelmingly approved a measure allowing them to recall elected officials. It was signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in October.

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