By Dave Rogers
---- — AMESBURY — A succession plan more than three years in the making came to fruition yesterday when Amesbury police Chief Mark Gagnon announced his retirement and his second-in-command, Lt. Kevin Ouellet, was named the department’s new chief effective July 1.
While city and police officials announced last November they were planning for Gagnon’s imminent retirement, planning had begun the moment Gagnon was tapped to replace the retiring Michael Cronin in 2010. Upon his hiring, Gagnon signed a five-year contract and this fiscal year will earn $160,631. Ouellet’s salary and contract have not been finalized.
Yesterday, the 56-year-old Gagnon said when he accepted the top job, it was with the mindset that he’d be in command for up to five years. With that in mind, the decision was made right away to groom Ouellet to someday succeed him should he want the job. To that end, Gagnon said he made sure Ouellet attended Amesbury department head meetings and accompanied him to chief-related events across the region.
“That’s been a fantastic experience because we’ve shared the load, worked as a team,” Gagnon said.
During those years, Gagnon, known throughout the city for his community outreach initiatives and his accessibility to the public, ensured Ouellet followed the same pattern.
Gagnon’s outstanding attention to community involvement was mentioned several times yesterday during a brief press conference inside the police department’s roll call room. Also in attendance was Lt. Jeffrey Worthen, who was named second-in-command by Ouellet.
Worthen, 50, was promoted to lieutenant in 2010 at the same time Gagnon replaced Cronin and Ouellet assumed executive officer duties. Before that he served as a sergeant shift supervisor for 10 years. Back in the early 1980s, Worthen and Gagnon worked together at the Salisbury Police Department before Worthen joined Amesbury police in 1983.
Ouellet, 52, who joined the department in 1980 as an auxiliary officer and for many years served as night shift supervisor well out of the public eye, said he would be continuing Gagnon’s campaign to make him and his police department one with the community.
“This is a department on the right course and I look forward to continuing that,” Ouellet said.
Those were welcome words to City Councilor Alan Neale, School Superintendent Michele Robinson and Council on Aging Director Annmary Connor, who all spoke highly of Gagnon and Ouellet.
“You brought your face to the community and you became recognizable,” Neale said of Gagnon, adding that level of interaction wasn’t present in Amesbury when Gagnon took over.
Connor praised Ouellet for his involvement with senior citizens and she expected the relationship to grow even stronger.
“He can take the razzing from them, which is very important,” Connor said, jokingly.
Robinson said Gagnon did an admirable job establishing a strong link between his department and the schools, adding that such a partnership was critical to students and that Ouellet would maintain that link.
“We couldn’t afford a gap,” Robinson said.
Ouellet said once assuming full command, he would immediately begin his own succession plan but this time without a clear idea who might replace him, adding that there were several people already within the department he could see as someday being named chief.
Kezer and police officials said someone within the department would be picked to oversee detectives on a interim basis until a permanent candidate is named. It’s a process that will begin immediately but expected to take well into next year, according to police.