Tisbury selectmen and chief will part
There is little chance that Tisbury Police Chief Ted Saulnier, currently working without a contract, and his bosses, the Tisbury selectmen, will bridge the gulf that now separates them.
Publicly, selectmen have pointed to the failure to agree with the chief over salary. But close observers of town affairs point to differences rooted in a clash of personalities and philosophy rather than dollars.
The selectmen officially ended contract negotiations in January and began advertising for a new chief in March.
Chief Saulnier's three-year contract ended on June 30, 2005. Under the terms of that contact he was entitled to one-year notice, allowing him to stay on the job until July 1, 2006.
The job listing posted on the Massachusetts Municipal Association's web site provides a deadline of April 7 to submit resumes.
John Bugbee, town administrator, said this week about 15 candidates have applied so far. He said the selectmen plan to form a committee and schedule interviews in the next several weeks.
Contract negotiations between Chief Saulnier and the selectmen stalled late last spring. According to Mr. Saulnier, after three meetings the selectmen voted not to renew his contract. Any possibility of renegotiating the contract disappeared when Chief Saulnier received a letter in January from the selectmen officially ending negotiations.
Chief Saulnier said there were no negotiations between the time he received the letter last June and the one he received in January.
Chief Saulnier estimated the difference in pay at approximately $6,000 a year. In fiscal year 2005, Chief Saulnier earned $81,328.
By comparison, Oak Bluffs pays its police chief a base salary of $77,233, with an additional compensation under the Quinn Bill, an educational credit that rewards police with extra pay for advanced degrees. The contract for Paul Condlin, long-time Edgartown police chief, pays him $97,371.
The job advertisement posting by the Tisbury selectmen lists the salary range as $64,332 to $80,524.
"We negotiated for several months with the police chief to renew his contract, and we were unable to come to a financial agreement," said Tristan Israel, Tisbury selectman. "I believe the selectmen compromised and had a more than fair contract on the table. We tried in good faith to reach an agreement and were unable to. After at least six months, we felt it was important to move on."
The chief said the salary dispute centers around educational incentive pay, which his department's union members receive and he does not. Although Tisbury has not accepted the provisions of the Quinn Bill, the Tisbury police officers union negotiated additional compensation for education as a percentage of base pay.
Tisbury police officers earn an additional 6 percent for an associate's degree, 11 percent for a bachelor's degree, and 13.5 percent for a master's degree. Chief Saulnier holds a law degree.
The chief said he asked the selectmen to "level out the playing field," because no other town in the state pays different incentives among ranks. "If a patrolman gets it, everyone up to and including the chief gets it," he said. Chief Saulnier estimated the difference in pay he asked for comes to about $6,000 a year.
Tisbury salaries for two sergeants are: $76,649 for an officer with a master's degree and 10 years' longevity; and $74,205 for the another, who holds an associate's degree and has 20 years' longevity.
Mr. Bugbee said that the offer on the table would have addressed the educational incentive pay. However, he added, "We didn't come to terms. Both sides bargained in good faith. It was simply a matter of an inability to come to terms on a new agreement. It's unfortunate, but hopefully in the end, everyone can move on and not harbor any bad feelings about the process or about how everything unfolded."
Putting salary differences aside, many who attend town meetings have observed the prickly relationship between Chief Saulnier and the selectmen, especially last summer when they were at odds over the selectmen's decision to forego traffic management in intersections near the Steamship Authority.
Prior to coming to the Vineyard, Chief Saulnier worked as a sergeant in the Waltham police department before joining the Tisbury police department in 2001, where he was made a lieutenant. He was promoted to chief in 2002, when former police chief John McCarthy retired.
Pointing to his positive job performance reviews, Chief Saulnier said, "I want to stay. I do want to serve. I don't feel like I've completed my tasks here. I know the direction the department should go in."