West Tisbury selectman/police sergeant Manter says he has a choice to make

The West Tisbury police chief search committee Tuesday morning presented selectmen with the names of four finalists for the job of chief law enforcement officer, and a sticky question related to one of the finalists, Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, who is a West Tisbury police officer and a selectman.

At issue is whether Mr. Manter can apply for a job offered by a board on which he sits and will make the final hiring decision.

The four finalists, whittled down from an initial list of 16 applications, are: West Tisbury police sergeant Dan Rossi, appointed acting police chief in April; Donald B. Hull, deputy chief of police in Canton, Connecticut; Christian Pedoty, police lieutenant with the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and Mr. Manter.

Mr. Manter has recused himself from all meetings related to the police chief selection process and did not attend Tuesday morning’s special meeting.

Too late for the print deadline for today’s newspaper, The Times learned that Mr. Manter will decide before the next selectmen’s meeting whether he will resign his seat on the board to devote himself to the pursuit of the chief’s job or withdraw his application to be appointed chief. Mr. Manter made the announcement late today at the selectmen’s weekly meeting.

“It is a hard decision,” Mr. Manter told a Times reporter. Because of his long career as a police officer, Mr. Manter has been eligible to retire with pension from the police department for 15 years.

Search committee finished its work

Robert Wasserman, search committee chairman, told selectmen Richard Knable and Cynthia Mitchell earlier that the committee unanimously voted to present four finalists and chose not to rank the candidates. The committee thought that all four were equally capable of being police chief in West Tisbury, Mr. Wasserman said.

Ms. Mitchell asked Mr. Wasserman, “Did the committee do any work when it was clear that Sgt. Manter was applying to determine his eligibility under conflict of interest rules or was that left to us?” Ms. Mitchell said the conflict is that Mr. Manter might be appointed to a position by a board on which he sits. The selectmen also have supervisory authority over the police department.

Mr. Wasserman said, “Our job was to take whoever the candidates were and select them. We did not get into any other issues.”

The selectmen unanimously voted to delay the selection process in order to receive an opinion from town counsel as to Mr. Manter’s eligibility.

Mr. Wasserman said that the committee recommended that a community meeting be held before public interviews of the finalists by selectmen, at which the finalists would have an opportunity to speak and respond to questions. Mr. Wasserman, an international security consultant, volunteered to facilitate the public meeting process.

Ms. Mitchell said, “The last time we hired a police chief, it is my recollection that there was a community public session at which I think there were seven candidates who addressed the community and it was an extremely valuable exercise, and I appreciate the committee’s recommendation. And however this goes forward, I would support that kind of session.”

In a follow-up conversation with The Times, Mr. Knabel said he first learned that Mr. Manter was a finalist when he received the list at 1:30 pm, Monday afternoon. Describing the situation as “not a small issue,” Mr. Knabel said, “It would have saved us some time if the committee had answered the question.”

Mr. Knabel said that it is his understanding that someone has to be off a board for some period of time before applying for a job that that board oversees.

Mr. Knabel said that he has no idea when town counsel Ron Rappaport will give a legal opinion.

The selectmen voted unanimously to extend Mr. Rossi’s current contract as acting police chief indefinitely while the process continues.

Final four

The search for a new police chief to head the eight-member department with a 2011 fiscal year budget of $937,961 began following the resignation last April of Beth Toomey.

The committee, which also included Al DiVito, Pierce Kirby, David Merry and Faith (“Hasty”) Runner, received 16 applications in response to local and national listings. Following a review the committee selected 10 persons it determined met the search criteria, which included supervisory experience, Mr. Wasserman said.

Other criteria included managerial experience, ability to communicate clearly in writing and “experience in a small community environment.”

The ten applicants were offered an opportunity to visit West Tisbury at their own expense for in-person interviews. Six accepted the invitation. The committee conducted interviews on Oct. 2.

“All five of us have really worked quite hard and diligently,” Mr. Wasserman said. “It was a very good selection committee. There were diverse viewpoints and there was very good discussion among the members. They really all gave it lots of energy.”

In their submission letters the candidates highlighted their experience and goals.

Mr. Hull has 26 years of law enforcement experience including eight years as second in command. Mr. Hull currently serves as Acting Police Chief with oversight of patrol, detective, and dispatch operations.

“I am creative and open to new ideas, while keeping in mind the overall goals of the organization,” he said. “I have strong leadership skills with a solid decision-making mindset that is fair and consistent.”

In response to a telephone call from The Times yesterday inquiring about any existing Island connections, Mr. Hull said he has visited the Vineyard several times and liked the look and welcoming feel of the community. Mr. Hull said that many facets of the job of police chief here are similar to his position as acting police chief in rural Canton, Connecticut — a small town and a small agency.

Mr. Pedoty has 24 years of law enforcement experience, including uniformed patrol and plainclothes investigation.

“I have the dedication and motivation necessary to move a department forward to meet both community and department objectives,” he said. “I have dedicated my life to law enforcement; and I look forward to new challenges and the opportunity to make a difference in the community I serve.”

The Times was unable to contact Mr. Pedoty yesterday to ask about any Island connections.

Mr. Rossi is a familiar face to Islanders. Mr. Rossi began his law enforcement career in 1992 in Chilmark. He became a patrol officer in West Tisbury in 1993. His supervisory experience dates back to 1999 when Chief Toomey promoted him to sergeant.

“Each and every experience I have encountered in law enforcement has given me a deeper insight into the crucial role the police play in maintaining the quality of life for all Island residents — young and old, summer and year ’round,” Mr. Rossi said. “It is a lifestyle I value for myself and my family, and one I hope to protect for all West Tisbury residents as they take part in the life of a vibrant Island community.”

Mr. Manter grew up in West Tisbury. His father, George Manter was a longtime police chief.

Mr. Manter joined the West Tisbury police department in 1975 after graduating from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He said that on two former occasions he was appointed to serve as the town’s acting police chief and “served in this capacity for about two years.”

“Serving on numerous boards and committees has helped prepare me for this position” Mr. Manter said.

“My many years of experience on the department, training, and a life time of caring for the citizens of this community make me the best choice for the job,” Mr. Manter wrote.