HOULTON, Maine — Citing an inability to work with the town manager, Houlton Police Chief Joe McKenna has submitted his resignation.
“Without going into details, I feel I can no longer work under your direction and leadership,” McKenna said in the letter he hand-presented on Thursday morning to Town Manager Butch Asselin. The letter indicates the resignation is effective Friday, Aug. 5.
Asselin confirmed that he had received the letter but declined to comment on the resignation, stating it was a “personnel matter.” He did say that the second in command, Capt. Dan Pelletier, who has been with the force for 41 years, would serve as the interim police chief while a replacement is sought.
The Houlton Police Department currently has a staff of 12 officers, including the chief. There also are two vacancies within the department.
McKenna was hired by Asselin on Dec. 27, 2013, after a five-month search for a new chief. McKenna took over the office on Jan. 3, 2014. Asselin previously served as Houlton’s police chief before taking over as town manager in July 2013.
During that five-month period while the town searched for a new chief, Asselin served a dual role as town manager and police chief.
McKenna was a 38-year veteran of law enforcement and resided in Winter Garden, Florida, before coming to Houlton. At the time of his hiring, he was retired from full-time work in law enforcement but did some reserve work.
He was deputy sheriff/commander of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office from August 1981 to January 2006. From January 2006 to October 2009 he transitioned to a reserve deputy sheriff role with the same agency and from November 2009 until he took the post in Houlton, he served as a reserve lieutenant/law enforcement officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“We have an exceptionally dedicated staff that is trying to do the right thing,” McKenna said Thursday in an interview with the Houlton Pioneer Times. “Unfortunately, they are hampered in a lot of ways. And I can’t work for somebody that is not willing to work with me.”
He declined to provide specifics.
McKenna said that during the past year and a half, he and his wife had been embraced by the local community.
“I have been treated like family since my wife, Marty, and I got here,” McKenna said. “The community has been absolutely phenomenal. We’re going to stay here for now. We’ll evaluate all of our options.”
McKenna said he was proud of what he had accomplished in the one and a half years as police chief, particularly with the improvements he has been able to enact.
“I’m proud of where the department is now,” he said. “They have radios that work, ballistic vests that are up to date, cars that are safe, new uniforms and the morale is really high.”
McKenna added that he felt the police department and the fire department, which is located in the building above the police station, had formed a strong bond during his tenure.
“We also have a reputation of respect with other law enforcement agencies, but more importantly, the citizens have faith in the police department,” McKenna said.
Houlton Town Councilor John White Jr. said he was surprised to hear of the resignation when contacted by the newspaper Thursday morning.
“I am very sad to hear of Joe’s decision,” White said. “He is a very friendly and kind man. I thought he fit right in here in Houlton. I respect his decision and wish him well.”