Tisbury names acting chief
Police officer Tim Stobie will serve as search begins
With only days to go before the town would be without a police chief, Tisbury selectmen Tuesday night reached into the ranks and appointed patrolman Tim Stobie to be the town’s acting chief of police. Mr. Stobie, a fulltime police officer since 1989, officially assumes his new position on Saturday.
The quick action by town leaders was precipitated by the receipt of a letter hand-delivered to town hall last week by Police Chief Ted Saulnier, stating he would retire on Friday, June 9. Under the terms of his expired contract, Chief Saulnier was able to remain in his post up to one year after its expiration, or until June 30.
Acting chief Timothy Stobie of Tisbury. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Although the exact date of his departure might have come as a surprise, Tisbury officials have had ample time to plan for Chief Saulnier’s departure.
Mr. Saulnier’s three-year contract expired on June 30, 2005. He and the selectmen were unable to agree on the salary terms of a new contract and in January selectmen announced the end of discussions. In March, the town began advertising for applicants for the job and set an April 10 response deadline.
Selectmen briefly explored the idea of sharing a police chief with Oak Bluffs, but that idea was dropped last week under pressure from rank and file members of the police department.
Faced with a sudden void in the police department, selectmen last week turned for advice to Robert Wasserman, a West Tisbury resident and international security consultant who formerly provided his services to the town during a period of upheaval in the police department. Mr. Wasserman is the chairman of the Strategic Policy Partnership, a group that assists police and government agencies with performance improvement and policy development.
Two senior Tisbury police officers, Detective Mark Santon and Patrolman Stobie, attended Tuesday’s meeting. Chief Saulnier was not present.
Based on what he said was an earlier discussion with Mr. Wasserman, at Tuesday night’s selectmen’s meeting, Denys Wortman suggested the selectmen pick an acting chief from within the Tisbury department, excluding the sergeants and any officers who had applied for the police chief position.
Selectman Tom Pachico recommended appointing Mr. Stobie as acting chief. He said that Mr. Santon has enough on his plate as the department’s court officer and only detective.
The selectmen asked Mr. Stobie if he would be willing to serve as acting chief. Hearing that he would, the selectmen made the appointment and agreed to increase his salary to reflect the change from a unionized patrolman to the non-union management position.
In one stroke Mr. Stobie became the supervisor of men he formerly reported to and will one day likely report to again. The fact that Mr. Stobie’s appointment might upset the chain of command was not lost on the selectmen.
"It may be awkward going from patrolman to chief and back to patrolman,” Mr. Pachico remarked to Mr. Stobie.
Mr. Wortman said he had raised that possibility with the Tisbury police officers a few weeks ago when he met with them to discuss the possible shared chief arrangement.
"I asked the group who were there, including two sergeants, how would you feel having a man leapfrog you, to go from patrolman to chief, and they said they would have no problem with it,” Mr. Wortman said. "This is a temporary situation. I feel Tim Stobie has been there quite awhile and has the respect of the department.”
Mr. Israel agreed. "I’m happy we’re putting someone in on an interim basis who has served long and well, and is well-respected. We need to have leadership as we begin our busiest season of the year.”
With an acting chief and plans for hiring a new chief in place, the Tisbury selectmen also agreed Tuesday night to continue discussions about regionalizing services with Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown as well.
Commenting on his new appointment yesterday, Officer Stobie said although his change in command will not be easy, he does not foresee any problems because the men and women in the department are very professional. "I’m not planning on shaking anything up, and hopefully it will be a smooth transition back when a new police chief comes on board,” Mr. Stobie said. That search will now continue in earnest.
The selectmen appointed a police chief search committee in April to hone down a list of 17 applicants and narrow the field to 4 or 5 final candidates.
Mr. Israel told The Times yesterday it would probably be July before a new chief is hired.
Mr. Wasserman has been providing his advice informally and at no charge. It is not unusual that Tisbury selectmen would turn to him for advice.
In 2000, after a former Tisbury police officer sued the department and the town on charges of racial discrimination, Tisbury selectmen hired Mr. Wasserman’s firm, PSComm LLC, a Boston consulting firm whose specialty is law enforcement management, to study the problems in the town’s police department and make recommendations.
The 25-page Police Issue Assessment, commonly referred to as the "Wasserman report” was released in February 2001.
The report outlined vicious tension between management and police officers, lack of professionalism, and lack of common purpose or mission. It suggested a variety of solutions, including staff replacement and even abolishing the entire department.
The report added that the department needed to focus on problem-solving, sophistication in dealing with youth, communicating without arrogance and sarcasm, transparency in its operations and regular interaction with citizens.
Chief Saulnier was hired in part on the basis of the recommendations contained in the report. Reached at the station he will leave tomorrow, Chief Saulnier said the selectmen did not ask whether he might agree to remain on the job for an additional month.