LITTLETON -- As a young boy, all Matthew King wanted was to become a police officer, said his father, James King.
Thirty two years after achieving the dream by landing the officer job in Littleton, King reached a new career height Monday night, which, he said, makes him responsible for the lives of all those who work for the department.
"I'm excited. I'm ready to get to work," King said shortly after selectmen appointed him police chief.
"I've been looking forward to this for the last couple of years," he said.
Selectmen voted 4-0 on Monday night to appoint King as successor to police Chief John Kelly. King will assume his position as acting chief Friday, and as permanent police chief Sept. 3, when Kelly officially retires.
King will receive an annual salary of $93,542. Kelly will go on "terminal leave" starting Friday, to which selectmen agreed, 3-0. Selectman Alex McCurdy recused himself from the voting on the terms of Kelly's departure, citing an unsettled dispute with Kelly over the chief's handling of a past police investigation involving McCurdy as a victim of an alleged crime.
King's appointment followed his public job interview at Monday night's board meeting, which drew a standing-room only crowd. All selectmen praised King's interview performance, calling him someone who is highly qualified for the job after taking on every position in the department, except administrative assistant, over the past three decades.
"We couldn't have a better cop to run this town," Selectman James Karr said.
The board faced sharp criticism for the hiring process from some members of the audience during the meeting, however, including from McCurdy.
McCurdy, who had advocated the idea of setting up a search committee for the chief position and seek outside candidates, reiterated his belief that the board's collective decision to interview King only for the position was a mistake. Even though King has done a great job in Littleton, the hiring process wasn't transparent enough, McCurdy said.
Resident Jane Chrisfield said the board could not know how qualified King was unless it was measured against other candidates.
"He would have been more credible" as a candidate if he was chosen from multiple finalists, resident Jen Stach also said of King.
Resident Vera Cohen also said "it's highly questionable" that the was trying to appoint King just before the May 10 town election -- before the board has membership turnovers. But Selectmen Joseph Knox and Karr said the process has been transparent and King has had "32 years of interviews."
During the interview, King stressed his experience with, understanding of and love for Littleton as a community and his professional knowledge as a deputy chief with a high level of training. He described his management style as "inclusive" and said he listens to suggestions by subordinates while giving orders when needed.
"They are the core (of the department). I'm not," King said.
"At the end of the day, the buck stops with me," King said, adding that the most important job as a chief is to "keep men and women in the department as safe as possible."
King said he plans to make no immediate major changes to the department, but that he hopes to add some personnel to improve shift rotations and continues to look into dispatch-service regionalization in the future.
King received a standing ovation upon his appointment.