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HANCOCK — Hancock hired a new police chief Wednesday, minutes after its mayor responded to criticism from the man who previously held that job.
The town council unanimously elevated Richard Cook from sergeant to chief.
Tim Smith, a councilman who also serves on the town’s police commission, said Cook has done “an outstanding job.” Mayor Ralph Salvagno, after the meeting, said he was “very, very happy” with the move.
Cook was promoted from officer to sergeant in October at the recommendation of former chief Rich Miller, who resigned effective that month. At the time, Miller said he was stepping down for personal and family reasons.
But this month, in a letter submitted to the Hancock News and shared with town officials, Miller accused the town manager of having “a stranglehold” on Hancock.
Among other issues, Miller wrote that he wound up operating the department while Town Manager David Smith controlled the funds.
“This policy was questionable but acceptable at the time. Over the course of the year I found myself not being able to manage the police department effectively. On occasions, I was force(d) to follow the direction of the town manager due to the fact that he had control of the money,” Miller wrote.
Miller also wrote that the budget, “solely developed by the town manager,” did not include money for replacing an officer who left the force.
Salvagno responded by reading a written statement during Wednesday’s meeting.
“Mr. Miller’s references to ‘policy’ are actually provisions of the town charter that the mayor and council follow as part of their duties to the citizens of Hancock,” Salvagno wrote.
Salvagno said the charter stipulates that the town manager is to direct all town departments, including the police. The manager also is to act as clerk-treasurer, preparing the budget and controlling “all expenditures to assure that budget appropriations are not exceeded.”
“The current charter was written in 1973 and the wisdom of our predecessors was to provide the opportunity for the police department to focus on protecting the lives and property of our citizens rather than be burdened by administrative work,” Salvagno wrote.
Salvagno also said a review of the town budgets in recent years “clearly documents that the police department has been funded at full staffing.”
None of the four councilmen spoke on the issue. After the meeting, the town manager declined to comment on Miller’s letter, as did the new chief.
“I actually was hired by Rich,” Cook said. “I want to take the police department and go forward with it.”
Cook joined the Hancock force in October 2017. He previously worked for the Hagerstown Police Department and the Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Police Department. He also has worked as a certified police canine handler and as a private contractor in Iraq.