Tisbury may be on hook for two chiefs

As search for new police chief begins, union says Meisner should be picked.

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Tisbury Police Lt. Eerik Meisner has the support of the majority of officers for chief, but Tisbury selectmen still plan to do a search. — Gabrielle Mannino

If Tisbury hires a new police chief before June 30, 2019, it will have to buy Chief Daniel Hanavan out of the remainder of his $139,000 one-year contract, town administrator Jay Grande confirmed.

That could leave the town paying the salaries of two police chiefs at once; this after some selectmen lobbied against a new school, saying it would put an undue financial burden on Tisbury taxpayers.

“That’s a possibility,” selectman Tristan Israel, the board’s freshly minted chairman, told The Times of paying two chiefs at once. “The idea right now is we’re trying to make transitions as smooth as we can.”

The town is in the process of hiring Hanavan’s replacement after selectmen decided not to offer him a three-year contract extension in October. At a meeting Tuesday night, the board talked about the scope of work for a consultant, Strategic Policy Partners of West Tisbury, that Grande is using to help with the search.

Grande could not say how much the consultant would be paid for the hiring process, because that depends on the scope of services. Towns typically use consultants to help screen candidates, put some of the contenders through emergency scenarios, and then, with the help of a committee, pare candidate pools down to top finalists for selectmen to consider.

At the meeting, selectmen said they want Grande to work on a new job description, and don’t want to pay the consultant to do public outreach. Instead, the town will use the Tisbury Visioning Council to get community feedback, a suggestion made by selectman Melinda Loberg.

Having a consultant search for candidates “takes politics out of the general process,” Israel said.

At the board’s next meeting, it will pick a selection committee. Grande suggested the committee include him, a selectman, the town’s personnel director, Fire Chief John Schilling, a representative of community services, a business community representative, and an active or retired police chief.

“I question the wisdom having a member of board of selectmen on the committee, seeing how we’re going to be making the final decision,” Loberg said.

Selectman Jim Rogers said he initially thought having a board member on the committee was a good idea. “Based on Melinda’s comments, I need to think on that,” he said.

Israel said rank-and-file officers should play some role in the search.

Selectmen will decide the committee’s makeup at their May 22 meeting. Grande is also expected to have a cost for the consultant’s role in picking a new chief.

Tisbury’s chief selection process has moved at a snail’s pace. Both West Tisbury and Edgartown had their chiefs retire about the same time Tisbury made its decision about Hanavan, but both have already hired new chiefs. Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee’s base salary is $180,000 and West Tisbury Chief Matt Mincone’s is $130,000.

All of this comes as the Tisbury’s police union says there is a viable in-house candidate who should be picked.

In a letter to selectmen dated April 3, Tisbury Police Union No. 419 wrote to selectmen endorsing Lt. Eerik Meisner as the department’s next police chief.

“As current police officers, we have personally interacted with Lt. Meisner,” the letter states. “Throughout the five years he has served as lieutenant, the Tisbury Police Department has made enormous strides in a positive direction.”

Meisner makes “tough decisions” to protect the department’s integrity, the letter states: “As officers, we understand those tough decisions are not popular decisions, but they are the right decisions.”

The letter was dropped off at The Times Monday.

Sgt. Kindia Roman, president of the union, told The Times it was a majority vote of the union to support Meisner. Though a copy of the letter was delivered to selectmen a month ago, she said, there has been no official word from the town.

“We hope it’s interim and goes on to long-term,” Roman said. “We have a leader we’ve gotten to know and trust who would be able to guide the department in a good direction.”

Meisner said he’s aware of the letter, and is appreciative of the union’s vote of confidence in him. “That’s nice of them,” he said.

Meisner was hired by Tisbury five years ago as second in command. He returned to the Island after spending more than 19 years in Titusville, Fla., where he rose to the rank of sergeant and served on that department’s SWAT team. He started as a special police officer in Tisbury before relocating to Florida.

Grande would not comment on the union’s letter directly except to say that he would be proposing his plan to selectmen Tuesday night. “The only immediate plan is to begin the recruitment and hiring process,” he said.

Israel said the town is just starting the search process. “Certainly, we’re all aware of the letter,” he said.

In October, Tisbury selectmen voted not to award a new three-year contract to Hanavan. The chief said at that time that he didn’t want three more years as the town’s top cop, and looked forward to spending more time with his wife.

Grande said he doesn’t expect the hiring process to extend through the term of Hanavan’s contract. “It’s likely someone will be hired before [June 30, 2019],” he said.