November 20, 2008
Eagle Tribune

The Atkinson, N.H. Police Department and Elderly Affairs Program are now officially separate.

It’s about time.

It has been years since residents began questioning both the ethics and the legality of police Chief Philip Consentino also being the director of elderly affairs, controlling various donation accounts to both departments and personally selecting who gets money from them.

It has been months since the New Hampshire attorney general said the practice was illegal.

But it took until this past week for the Board of Selectmen to sign off on a plan to separate the two departments, which includes numerous rules and regulations to comply with state law. Consentino will continue as volunteer director of the elder program, but must answer to selectmen.

Consentino argued for years that there was nothing wrong with the way he collected and spent donations to the Police Department and for elderly assistance.

And he has remained popular in town, particularly among senior citizens.

Consentino has conducted a donation drive each year, sending out solicitations on police letterhead.

The money collected is distributed among the Special Senior Fund, the Atkinson Police Department Donation/Equipment Fund and the DARE fund.

But popularity does not trump the law. Terry Knowles, assistant director of the AG’s charitable trust unit, recommended that besides separating the jobs of police chief and elderly affairs director, that a system be established for determining who receives money.

So the board of directors of a new nonprofit, the Atkinson Police Charitable Fund, will administer disbursements and issue annual, public reports on account balances and activity.

Finally, the drivers who perform services for elders — a group of retired men — will stop wearing police uniforms.

Consentino deserves credit for his civic activism, but it will be better for him — and for those he says he wants to serve — for the management and distribution of charitable donations to be transparent and decided by a set of standards, not the discretion of one individual.