Oak Bluffs selectmen make public safety appointments

Oak Bluffs selectmen concluded a Tuesday night budget meeting with a vote to appoint police chief Erik Blake and acting fire chief John Rose co-emergency management directors. Selectmen also named Shawn Broadly deputy fire chief and Manuel Rose assistant fire chief.

Originally, Sergeant Steven Conley was going to take the place of retiring Emergency Management Director Peter Martell. However, Mr. Whritenour said the idea to have the two chiefs share the position evolved during the preparation for the president’s visit and other major events this summer, which required heightened security in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

“The two chiefs worked with remarkable cohesiveness,” Mr. Whritenour said in a telephone call. “Their relationship organically grew and we started thinking that when it comes down to having people that can make immediate decisions on the declaration of emergency, putting the manpower where it needs to be, advising the town administrator and the selectmen, it makes a lot more sense to have the chiefs do it together and have Sergeant Conley be the back-up. Event after event, those two chiefs worked together better than you could get one person to do it.”

Mr. Whritenour said that the town took extra steps to mitigate possible conflict of interest issues in filling the assistant fire chief and deputy fire chief positions. “We had to create an alternate process because one of the candidates was a family member of Chief Rose,” he said. “We’re very aware of the number of Roses in the department. On the one hand it’s an admirable trait to have a family that’s devoted to public service and that do it very well. But it also presents potential problems and pitfalls. We developed a system that works to evaluate candidates on professional merit without blackballing an entire family from public service.”

Mr. Whritenour said that in his experience, it’s not unusual for a small town like Oak Bluffs to have to have potential nepotism issues in town government. “In our case, being an isolated Island community exacerbates the problem. You need to take the bull by the horns and make specific affirmative steps to avoid conflict of interest.”

Mr. Whritenour organized a panel to evaluate the candidates that included retired Brewster fire chief Roy Jones, who wrote an extensive and often critical evaluation of the fire department last year, retired Mashpee fire chief George Baker, selectman Michael Santoro, town moderator and retired firefighter Jack Law, and town resources director Wendy Brough.

Mr. Whritenour said, “The final decision was based somewhat on seniority, but it was also a merit-based process. Mr. Broadley was impressive across the board. Mr. Rose brings a lot to the table too.”