Tisbury, Oak Bluffs won't share
Joint chief plan dropped, as leading candidate for job withdraws, citing fast pace of proposed change
Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake withdrew his name as a candidate for a possible shared police chief's position for Oak Bluffs and Tisbury in a letter he sent to Oak Bluffs selectman chairman Duncan Ross on Tuesday.
"Getting this done in such a quick timeframe seemed like too much pressure," Chief Blake said yesterday. "It may be good to segregate Tisbury's immediate need for a new chief from what may work out in the long-term."
Chief Blake also sent copies of the letter to Tisbury selectman chairman Tristan Israel, Oak Bluffs town administrator Casey Sharpe, and Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee.
A joint meeting with the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury selectmen was scheduled Tuesday night to continue the two towns' discussions about a shared police chief arrangement. After Mr. Bugbee received a copy of Chief Blake's letter mid-afternoon, he said Oak Bluffs canceled the meeting, and the issue was off the table. "So it's on with the police chief search for Tisbury," Mr. Bugbee said.
The idea of sharing a police chief came up at a joint meeting between the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs selectmen several months ago. A few weeks ago the two boards stepped up their discussions about a possible shared arrangement as Tisbury is currently conducting a search for a new police chief.
The search stems from the failure of the Tisbury selectmen and Police Chief Ted Saulnier to reach an agreement on a new contract last summer. Chief Saulnier will leave his post on June 30 when the contract terms expire.
The Tisbury selectmen had appointed a search committee that included Chief Blake and was already actively seeking candidates. However, Tisbury selectman chairman Tristan Israel said the search for a new police chief provided a "window of opportunity" for Tisbury and Oak Bluffs to consider a shared arrangement, as well.
A few weeks ago, the selectmen held a joint meeting and agreed to start examining the pros and cons of such an arrangement. As a first step they asked Chief Blake if he would be interested in serving as chief in both towns. At that time, he said he would be willing to discuss it.
The selectmen nominated Tisbury selectman Denys Wortman, Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee, Oak Bluffs selectman Michael Dutton, and Oak Bluffs town administrator Casey Sharpe to serve on a committee to examine all of the issues involved in sharing a police chief.
At a Tisbury selectmen's meeting last week, several police officers said that while they did not favor sharing a police chief with Oak Bluffs, they were not against regionalization. Chief Blake said the Tisbury department's concerns were understandable.
"I think the Tisbury police have the same concerns the public has. Exactly how is this going to work? Are you going to spend four hours here and four hours there? We need to really discuss it," Mr. Blake said, admitting the same questions crossed his mind as well. "It's the unknown. Right now, I honestly can't answer just how I would spend my time. If I had both departments, where I am physically wasn't the question. It was more a question of time management that has not been answered yet," said the chief.
As part of an opinion-gathering effort, Mr. Wortman had met with several police officers in both departments. "Neither department wanted to do this, but both were open to studying a long-term plan for regional cooperation," Mr. Wortman said.
When asked what triggered his decision not to pursue the two-town job, Chief Blake said there was no one factor. He dismissed the rumors that he bowed to pressure from police officers who opposed the idea.
"I'm not finding any knee-jerk reaction from the officers. I think they have legitimate concerns that obviously need to be addressed," Chief Blake said.
His actions should not have any bearing on what may happen in the future, the chief said, and if talks resume, he would be happy to contribute.
Mr. Israel said he plans to recommend to his fellow selectmen that they continue meeting with the Oak Bluffs selectmen, perhaps establishing a committee to explore regional cooperation. Mr. Ross agreed to the idea as well, and suggested inviting the Edgartown selectmen into the discussions.
Mr. Wortman advised that a well thought-out business plan would be valuable in trying to bring together police departments. Mr. Israel agreed. "Now we can take a deep breath and take a measured look at this, and get a lot of input from various entities in the community.
The Tisbury police chief search committee finished conducting phone interviews this week, Mr. Bugbee said. After paring down the candidate list, the committee will schedule in-person interviews and then make its recommendations to the selectmen for the finalists.
"We have about another month, and may have to come up with a contingency plan if we do not have someone in place by the July 1 deadline," Mr. Bugbee said.