August 18, 2008
For years, Atkinson, N.H., police Chief Philip Consentino has argued there was nothing wrong with the way he collected and spent donations of money for the Police Department and assistance to the elderly.
Now, the New Hampshire attorney general disagrees.
The attorney general’s office said in a letter to town officials that five donation accounts under Consentino’s control are being managed illegally. The office’s charitable trust unit wrote that the violations were likely due to ignorance of the law and said that the management of the accounts must be brought into compliance with the law.
Consentino has been a focal point for public criticism due to his multiple roles in town affairs and his handling of the accounts. In addition to police chief, Consentino serves as director of elderly affairs. He once also served as a selectman and was reprimanded by a Superior Court judge for presiding over meetings in which police or elderly affairs matters were discussed.
But Consentino is also popular, particularly among the senior citizens he serves as elderly affairs director.
Consentino conducts a donation drive each year, sending out solicitations on police letterhead, wrote Terry Knowles, assistant director of the charitable trust unit. The money collected is distributed among five funds — the senior donation fund, “Life is Not Done Group,” Police Department equipment, DARE and police funds.
The money is spent at the chief’s discretion, with the approval of the selectmen. Consentino will make withdrawals from the fund for anything from flowers to fuel assistance for a senior.
There are several problems with this, according to Knowles. First, the chief has sole discretion in selecting who gets money. Knowles recommended that the jobs of police chief and elderly affairs director be separate and distinct and that a system be established for determining who receives money.
Also, Knowles wrote that the accounts need to be placed under the control of the Trustees of the Trust Fund, who would then control who may make authorized disbursements. The trustees would also issue annual, public reports on account balances and activity.
Consentino’s methods may have worked well when Atkinson was a sleepy farming town. But it is now an increasingly prosperous residential community, among the fastest-growing in the state. Atkinson officials must act on this report and bring their charitable fund management into the 21st century.
See Consentino’s latest response here: Response to Attorney General’s Letter to Town Officials