Hinsdale hoping new police chief, administrator will bring stability
HINSDALE — Stability and continuity.
That's what officials are hoping the third police chief in three years and the first-ever town administrator will bring to the community, which in recent years has been plagued by controversy.
The Board of Selectmen has hired veteran Sheffield police officer Susan Rathbun to replace former Police Chief Mark L. Smith, who left in July for the chief's job in North Brookfield.
Rathbun was sworn into office on Wednesday during a brief ceremony at Town Hall before family, friends and supportive townspeople. She officially begins Dec. 7 at an annually salary of $61,200 as part of her three-year contract with the town.
Also sworn in Wednesday was Ryan Aylesworth, the new town administrator.
Aylesworth, of Richmond, emerged from a pool of 40 candidates to land the town administrator's position created by the Annual Town Meeting in late May. Aylesworth brings municipal and federal government experience to Hinsdale earning him a $60,000 salary with a yearly renewable agreement.
Selectmen Chairman John Genzabella expects Rathbun will end the turmoil that has surrounded the chief's job and six-person police force this decade.
"Stability is the key word," he said. "She has excellent people skills and we feel comfortable with how she will work with the department."
Among Rathbun's duties in Sheffield was school resource officer, a duty she plans to continue at the Kittredge Elementary School just around the corner from the police department.
"I can't wait to get into the school and I can't wait to get involved with [senior citizens]," she said. "I'm a working chief and will be out there with my officers."
As for Aylesworth, he has been the Richmond Conservation Agent and honed his leadership skills with the Boys Scouts of America, Audubon International and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"All you have to do is talk to Ryan," Genzabella said. "He's so impressive."
Aylesworth will help the town department heads and volunteer boards manage a $5.5 million operating budget as well as provide long-range planning that will help shape the town's future. Being town administrator is new to both him and local officials, the job is a perfect fit for the New England native.
"I'm a small town guy who grew up in northwestern Maine, so I can appreciate small town living." Aylesworth said.
Rathbun has been in law enforcement for 30 years, getting her start in the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. She is well respected by her former police force — all but one of the 12-member Sheffield Police Department were on hand Wednesday to wish her well, including Chief Eric R. Munson III.
"I didn't have to ask twice for them to show up," Munson said. "Susan was our school resource officer and lead sexual assault investigator — we have big shoes to fill."
Rathbun said becoming a police chief has been a lifelong goal and she's undaunted by the revolving door in the Hinsdale police chief's office.
Smith, her predecessor, arrived from the Granby Police Department a year ago to succeed Nancy Daniels, who was terminated two years ago for failing to complete the required training to be a full-time chief.
Daniels, and many of her local supporters, felt she was unfairly targeted by the board.
Many residents upset over Daniels' firing began targeting her successor. A Facebook page devoted to discussing public affairs in Hinsdale frequently became a forum to disparage Smith — with residents making unsubstantiated allegations that he was not working full-time or engaging in biased police work.
Smith took the North Brookfield job, in part, because it was closer to his hometown of Belchertown.
Creating a town administrator position came about as municipal officials and many residents recognized the need for more professional help at Town Hall — no different than communities larger than Hinsdale.
"The issues are all the same whether you have 1,000 people or 30,000 people," Genzabella said.
Aylesworth envisions his job as being one that can help unify the municipality and move beyond past turmoil within Town Hall.
"I see a new future for the town that couldn't be more welcoming to me," Aylesworth said. "I am rolling up my sleeves to make Hinsdale the best town it can be."
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