Oak Bluffs, Tisbury may share chief
The Tisbury selectmen's search for a new police chief has renewed a discussion that had lain dormant for several years. This week, town officials in Tisbury and Oak Bluffs confirmed they are discussing the possibility of sharing a police chief.
Tisbury's search for a new police chief and the town's interest in exploring a regional solution arose after selectmen failed to reach an agreement with Ted Saulnier, Tisbury's current police chief whose contract ends on July 1.
The idea of regionalizing the police chief's job came up at a joint meeting between Tisbury and Oak Bluffs selectmen several months ago to discuss mutual issues such as the Lagoon Pond drawbridge, according to one town official.
Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake. Photo by Ralph Stewart
At that time selectmen on both boards expressed interest in the idea of sharing a police chief, said Oak Bluffs selectman Gregory Coogan. "We asked the two town administrators to start the process of looking into it, while Tisbury is doing a search to fill their needs for a police chief."
Mr. Coogan and Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel stressed that the discussion about regionalizing the police chief's job is in the preliminary stages.
"We're just looking at various options," Mr. Israel said this week. "It is not imminent - it is just being explored right now. We have a search committee, and are looking at candidates, but I think it's a good time to at least explore different possibilities."
Despite the selectmen's insistence that the discussions are very preliminary in nature, the Island rumor mill has Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake already sworn in.
Chief Blake has heard the rumors as well. Yesterday, Mr. Blake told The Times that after the selectmen's discussions took place, the talk started. "It's all been rumor and innuendo for the last couple of months," said Chief Blake, an Island native who rose through the ranks. "I've heard rumors that I'm already the acting chief. I wouldn't even know how to open the combination on the [Tisbury's police department's] door."
Although he said he understood that the selectmen are discussing the possibility of him serving as police chief in both towns, there have been no official negotiations. "Personally, I've been staying out of it," Mr. Blake said. "It's really about the people who make those decisions, the town administrators and the selectmen.
"I don't want to be perceived as somebody who is spearheading this. If the Tisbury selectmen are not coming to terms with their chief and they feel that's the best direction for Tisbury, and our selectmen are on board with it, I'd be happy to sit down and talk about it."
This is not the first time Oak Bluffs and Tisbury selectmen have talked about regionalizing their police departments, although the recent discussion focused only on sharing a regional police chief.
In May 2000, Mr. Coogan's brother Edmond, a Tisbury selectman until his death in 2001 who had once been a selectman in Oak Bluffs, said that combining the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs police departments would benefit both towns in terms of finances and resources.
He was a driving force behind the idea, and although discussions between the selectmen took place, nothing resulted. Unlike sharing a police chief, a regional police department requires the creation of a police district.
Mr. Coogan said several people have mentioned his brother in association with the concept of regionalization. "I think he had a good perspective about how well both towns worked and saw it was something that could work for both of them," Mr. Coogan said. "A lot of help and cooperation between the police officers and fire departments through mutual aid agreements has brought down some of the barriers between the towns, and people are rethinking the idea of regionalizing some of these services."
For many Islanders, the term regionalization is charged with political voltage.
Tisbury selectman Tom Pachico said it would be more accurate to describe the possible arrangement between the two towns as sharing a police chief rather than regionalization, because the police departments would remain separate. "We would share a chief, and since Erik Blake is the Oak Bluffs chief, he would probably be a likely candidate," Mr. Pachico said.
Mr. Coogan said it comes as no surprise that Erik Blake's name has surfaced in connection with the discussions. "Erik has been a good chief for us, and I'm sure his name would come up anywhere in discussions about this. Maybe the time is right to accomplish this. I think that's why it was brought up at the meeting. Tisbury has a need, and we have a good chief in place, and maybe we can help each other out."
Tisbury is currently conducting a search for a new chief. Seventeen candidates have applied for the job, according to Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee.
Last week, the Tisbury selectmen approved the formation of a search committee that includes Mr. Bugbee, Chief Blake, Tisbury businessmen Larry Gomez and Jeff Kristal, Tisbury Police Officer Tim Stobie, NAACP representative Joyce Rickson, and Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling. The committee will hone the candidates' resumes down to four or five to present to the selectmen.
Mr. Blake said he plans to attend the meetings until the towns' selectmen decide which direction they want to take.
Mr. Israel said the financial aspect of the arrangement is one of his primary concerns. "We have to be mindful of finances and any expenditures in ventures we would investigate. That would have to be looked at very carefully," he said.
Tisbury budgeted $86,520 for the police chief's salary for fiscal year 2007 (FY07). When the selectmen posted the police chief's job in March, they listed the salary range as $64,332 to $80,524. By comparison, Chief Blake will earn $88,500 as a base salary in FY07, with an additional percentage from the Quinn Bill. Tisbury's total FY07 police department budget is $1.2 million, while the Oak Bluffs department has a budget of $1.35 million.
Chief Saulnier's three-year contract ended on June 30, 2005, after he and the selectmen failed to reach an agreement on salary in discussions last spring. Under the contract's terms, Chief Saulnier was entitled to one year's notice, allowing him to stay on the job until July 1, 2006.
Although contract negotiations were to remain open during that year, the selectmen notified Chief Saulnier in January they were officially ending negotiations. In March they posted his job listing on a municipal jobs web site.
"As far as regionalization goes, that's in the selectmen's hands," Mr. Bugbee said. "The possibility of a regional police chief is something being considered, but no decisions have been made as yet. At the moment, I'm continuing down the path of looking for a full-time police chief until I'm told to do otherwise."
To that end, Mr. Bugbee said the committee hopes to present a list of candidates to the selectmen by mid to late May, which would give them about a month to make a decision before Chief Saulnier leaves his post. The committee will be informed about the regional police chief discussions as well, Mr. Israel said.
Jeff Kristal, owner of the Crocker House Inn and search committee member, said that while he has not been privy to any of the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs selectmen's discussions, he supports the effort. "The subject has been out there for about nine years," he said. "I think it is good the selectmen are talking to each other about it, since it will be up to them."