STOCKBRIDGE — Police Chief Robert Eaton submitted a "conditional letter of resignation" to the Select Board on Friday afternoon.
Eaton has been in negotiations to become the police chief of Townsend, near Fitchburg, for the past six weeks.
He informed the Select Board that he has accepted a conditional offer from Townsend, and that a public signing ceremony of his contract there is set for this Thursday evening.
"At this public meeting, they plan on swearing me in for ceremonial purposes only," Eaton wrote.
In his letter, he stated that his last day of employment in Stockbridge will be April 30. Eaton's starting date as police chief in Townsend is May 1, he added.
"Thank you for all your support, professionalism and friendship," he wrote in his letter to the Select Board. "I wish each of you and the town of Stockbridge the best in the future."
Selectman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo said he would defer comment until he and his colleagues have a chance to discuss the next step. Select Board Chairman Charles Gillett and Selectman Stephen Shatz could not be reached on Friday afternoon. Town Administrator Jorja P. Marsden declined comment.
Eaton was not available for comment.
On Feb. 10, Eaton confirmed that he intended to accept a tentative offer from Townsend, a community of nearly 9,000 in Middlesex County. He had emerged as the sole finalist in the town's search for a new chief, as first reported by The Eagle's sister newspaper and website, the Lowell Sun.
A few days earlier, Eaton and the Stockbridge Selectmen signed a three-year contract extension one year before his current agreement was set to run out. The new contract would have kept him as chief in Stockbridge until February 2020, with a salary of more than $100,000 in the final year.
Eaton has told The Eagle that he accepted the Townsend offer as a career advancement opportunity to head a much larger police force of 15, more than double the size of the Stockbridge department, "and to pass the torch to the next leader" of the Stockbridge force. His salary in Townsend has not been disclosed.
Some residents here had been vocal critics during Eaton's tenure, challenging the police budget and his plans to gradually expand the size of the force, while others questioned the number of cruisers and even disputed the location of radar units in town.
He also garnered widespread support for modernizing the department, emphasizing community policing, upgrading technology, working closely with neighboring departments, and leading six officers, including Sgt. Darrell Fennelly, the second in command.
"As chief of police, I am responsible to the Board of Selectmen, the town administrator and the town as a whole, not individual people with individual agendas," Eaton explained in an Eagle interview last month. "It wasn't an easy decision because I was emotionally attached to the community and the officers I worked with. We have received an outcry of tremendous support over the last few months from the silent majority. I believe I had the support of all three selectmen, the community and the staff."
He explained that he had not intended to leave Stockbridge after only two years as chief, and was not actively looking elsewhere until he was approached by BadgeQuest, the search firm helping Townsend officials. He filed an application on Dec. 28 but was not interviewed until Feb. 2 and did not learn he was the lone finalist until Feb. 5.
Eaton asserted that local critics "did not drive me out. They'll try to take that credit and that's their personalities."
Citing his open-door policy and "walking on the street on almost a daily basis," the chief described having reached out to the critics, "but certain individuals refused to meet with me; they'd rather address any issues they had in public."
"That's a clear message that they don't want to learn how we're doing our job here," he said. "We had plenty of opportunities for the handful of naysayers to try to come and talk to me. They refused."
Eaton described the critics as "very disruptive to the whole community through backdoor rhetoric and private meetings to discuss the police department. It's a shame because it's a beautiful community with very dedicated employees. Those few are just disruptive it takes away from the beauty of Stockbridge and Berkshire County. But they were no factor in me wanting to move on."
A group of 22 citizens has submitted a citizens petition seeking a vote at the May 16 annual town meeting for a return to the "weak police chief" state statute which gives more power to the Select Board in the operations of the department. The town had adopted the "strong chief" state law nearly 20 years ago.
The Townsend Select Board's Chairwoman Carolyn Smart has described Eaton as "a great guy" and declared that the search committee there "got it right" when he designated him as its sole and unanimous choice for the position.
Former Townsend Police Chief Erving Marshall. Jr. retired last September after 15 years in the post. His base salary in his final year was $108,089.
Eaton's current base salary in Stockbridge is $87,945.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.