Edgartown looks to outside help to find a new police chief

Grassroots campaign grows for hometown hire.

Hundreds of Edgartown residents have signed a petition to make Jonathan Searle, right, the new police chief. — Sara Piazza

It’s been a revolving door at the Edgartown police chief’s office since Paul Condlin left in 2010 after 15 years in the top post. His successor, Tony Bettencourt, abruptly retired in early 2015, then Jack Collins was appointed by selectmen as temporary chief, then Patrolman David Rossi was sworn in as chief in May 2015, until his recent sudden retirement due to a heart attack on Nov. 17, leading to the appointment of Lieutenant Chris Dolby as acting chief. Lt. Dolby has publicly stated he is not interested in the chief’s position at this time.

To find a new chief and create long-term stability, the town has engaged the services of Tewksbury-based Integrity Testing, founded in 2012 by retired Tewksbury Police Chief Alfred P. Donovan and retired North Andover/Wareham Police Chief Richard Stanley.

“The assessment group is coming on Jan. 8 to do a public forum so people have an idea of how that works,” selectman Arthur Smadbeck said in a phone conversation with The Times. “After we have advertised the position and have all the applications, they’ll cut down the number of applicants. At some point, we will have a committee that will look at what they’ve cut down, and then hopefully there will be three to five candidates who will be interviewed by the selectmen after everything is whittled down.”

Mr. Smadbeck said there are no changes in the current job description.

“It’s probably going to be the job description as before,” he said. “At some point we will address that; it hasn’t been changed in a long time. It probably should be updated, but not this go-round.”

Mr. Smadbeck said that Chief Rossi was hired from within because he had a skill set that the town was looking for. He credits Chief Rossi with the department becoming accredited by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission earlier this year.

“Unfortunately, he had a heart attack, and we’re still not exactly where we want to be,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “What we need is some guidance on how to get to the next level. We felt this was a good way to do it.”


Locals lobby for local chief

Two weeks ago, Edgartown resident Michelle Oteri began a petition campaign to show support for Edgartown Police Sergeant Jonathan Searle to be the next chief, which she intends to present to the board of selectmen.

The petition, digitally posted at change.org and circulated in paper form, has garnered almost 900 signatures.

Sgt. Searle joined the department in January 1986. His father, George, was Edgartown police chief for 14 years.

“Jon is the best man for the job; this is not about being against someone,” Ms. Oteri told The Times. “There are five sergeants in the department, and now we’re looking to an outside agency. It’s dumbfounding. Why do we have sergeants in place if we don’t feel like they’re good enough?”

Ms. Oteri said she was encouraged by the show of support for Sgt. Searle. “It’s not about just Edgartown voters. He’s been here his whole life, he knows a lot of people on this Island. Some of the comments are from people he was in the military police with. They have some amazing things to say about him.”

Ms. Oteri said the paper petitions were at several local merchants, but she declined to give specifics.

“People have told me they’re afraid to sign it because of the clique that runs this town,” she said. “It’s worse than high school. It’s shocking how decisions are made here.”

Mr. Smadbeck said the petition would not sway the decision process.

“This isn’t going to be a popularity contest,” he said. “If it were, we’d put it to a vote. It’s not going to be like that.”

Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden expressed confidence in the selection process, and in Sgt. Searle’s abilities. “I’m sure the town is going to be very thorough with the process, as they should be,” he said. “Jon is a seasoned veteran of the Edgartown Police Department, he’s an Island name, and it seems like he’s got a lot of support in town. If you’re qualified and you’re a local candidate, I personally would lean in that direction. There’s no place like Martha’s Vineyard, and I think a chief needs to understand the local dynamics here. Of course, the final decision is with the selectmen; that’s entirely up to them.”

“Local knowledge is always important,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “We’ve got tons of local knowledge in our police force. What we’re looking for is specific modernized police knowledge. Bringing our police force into accreditation was a huge step. But this isn’t 1980 any more. We have a lot of modern issues that we didn’t have to deal with 30 years ago.”


  1. If any one of our current sergeants is willing and qualified he should get the job. I doubt if any of the selectmen have a clue. Bypassing good qualified local ranking men is a formula for morale destruction. We need politicians who don’t need to squander our money on consultants.

  2. How dumb do they think we are?
    Sorry guys, but we are not going to be fooled by your “process”.
    The deck is stacked, the deed is done, we all know it, and have for a very long time.
    Why not just get on with it? Don’t waste money or time.
    You are not fooling anyone !!

  3. So let me get this straight. The last 2 Chiefs were appointed from within without the “need” to go outside. Mr Dolby, who I believe may have a close relative working in Edgartown was appointed acting Chief with the distinct probability that he would be the next Chief. But he didn’t want the position so instead of doing the right thing and offering the position to Sgt Searle, who has earned his stripes, no pun intended, you go outside. What a slap in the face for not only Jonathan, but for most any Edgartown employee who desires to move up the ladder. This reeks of something close to discrimination/nepotism. Jonathan deserves this position. He has earned it. He is former military, he is life long resident of Edgartown. His family has served the town in two capacities that I know of. His mother Shirley as head of the Comm Ctr and his father former Police Chief George Searle. You need to do the right and honorable thing. Otherwise, come election time you may be ousted by the court of public opinion. I SUPPORT Jonathan for Chief of Police of Edgartown MA.

  4. Joannep, BRAVO!
    It takes courage to stand against “the machine”!
    Chief Rossi’s heart attack unfortunately upset the “plan”, and mom did not have the opportunity to first retire before the appointment of the new chief…in what was to be a very thinly veiled effort to avoid the “appearance” of any nepotism!
    So, it is now a no holds barred situation…
    And, for what it’s worth. this town agrees with you !

  5. Everyone on this island cries about housing prices while jobs that can support locals get shipped to the main land. Islanders need to hold your housing votes at the next town meeting until towns correct their behavior.

  6. I knew Jonathan’s father to be a capable, cool-headed leader with command presence and a clear view of his mission. Jonathan is like that too. The problem with the selectmen is they don’t understand the police job profile, nor are they capable of vetting a candidate. They turn to off island “experts” to do the work they are elected to do. Succession in a police/military selection should not be rocket science.

  7. Which selectman is up for re-election next? Let’s make an example of him or her. Popularity contest? The public has spoken and the public trusts and wants Sargent Searle as our next chief.

  8. Is there a public list of the applicants? How do you know if any other current department members are planning to apply? I did not see a job posted yet in the paper. Its nice to see Sgt Searle has community support. To all of you posters making reference to nepotism, His father was the Chief of Police when he hired his son as a patrolman. I guess since that doesn’t fit your current narrative its not ‘nepotism’. As far as signing petitions, I’d like to see the real LOCAL Edgartown voters who signed the “petition”. Anonymous internet ‘point and click’ ‘likes’ or ‘supporters’ have zero credibility. Perhaps providing distinctive local island IP addresses for any ‘supporter’ would show that its not someone clicking away on their computer like a Russian hacking an election. And what’s the BS about being ‘afraid to sign a petition’ at a secret merchant location. I’m sure whichever selectman is up for re-election is quivering in their pants that a bunch of anonymous internet ‘likers’ are somehow going to arrive here from all over the country and register to vote them out of office. A logical course of action would be for a local Edgartown voter or non voting taxpayer to write a letter of support. But the online petitions have about the same credibility as the polls that gave Hillary a 95% chance of winning the President job. Hiring a qualified Police Chief is a bit more of a task than facebook ‘likers’ can comprehend.

  9. The petition is not anonymous, it clearly states it will be printed out and presented to the Selectmen. It has shown tremendous support for a local candidate that the town need to be aware of. This whole process needs to be open and upfront and hopefully all this public awareness will finally make the Town Administrator and Board of Selectmen more transparent. Small town politics have always existed but maybe now is the time for things to change and accountability and ethics to matter.

  10. I concur with notnewhere… This online petition cannot, and will not, hold much weight as an instrument of change in this case. BUT the issues with it go beyond the lack of credibility due to anonymity.

    From what I gather reading the story, this petition is attempting to address 3 issues: 1) nepotism/favoritism in local government, 2) hiring a new police chief from within the Edgartown Police Department and 3) hiring a specific individual (Jonathan Searle). Issues 1 and 2 are certainly admirable and worthwhile issues to tackle, but, the verbage of the petition itself is singularly focused on #3 (hiring Jonathan Searle) which is where, I think, this effort really goes off course. Don’t get me wrong, Jonathan is a great guy, but in introducing a bias-based personal choice of a perfect candidate as your primary focus, you’ve diluted efforts to change two very serious issues that could and should be addressed.

    Personally, I would have liked to have seen the focus be on the broader message of hiring a new police chief from within our current rank and file. I believe that is a cause that virtually any taxpayer of Edgartown would rally around and I would be equally as interested as notnewhere in knowing who among them has expressed an interest.

    Something worth considering: It’s no secret that Edgartown pays its Chief well. In fact, I believe we are one of the top paying Departments in the state for that position. Seeking someone from outside is, no doubt, going to bring in a slew of applications from qualified, if not overly qualified, individuals from all over. The problem is that for those applicants, coming here to play the part of Chief is simply a way to pad their retirement benefits. They’ll be in office for the minimal amount of time to collect (3 years) and then we’ll be on the hook for paying them those benefits. We (the community) are a means to an end, pure and simple… Personally, if I’m going to pay the retirement benefits for a Chief, I’d rather it be an individual that’s put in 20-30+ years serving this community than someone who just sees me as a means to higher pension benefits.

    Edgartown has always touted their officers (individually and as a unit) as being the best on the island and has always promoted from within. Considering we have at least a handful of officers that have served us for 20-30+ years, I’d love to know what has changed that’s causing a search to be conducted outside this time. Additionally, has anyone asked the officers of the Department what they want? Are they asking for an outsider to come in? These are the questions we need answers to.

    The problems with it aside, at the very least the petition is fostering discussion about serious issues and I hope that continues here. We owe it to ourselves and to our fine men and women in blue.

  11. Nobody has “earned” anything.

    I am sure the policemen of ET are competent and I think they do good jobs. But the question should be “who will do the best job”–not “will someone who we already know do a good enough job?”

    If the locals are better than the competition, they’ll get the job. If not, it’s a hard sell to sacrifice a department to keep it local.

  12. It’s pretty apparent and not surprising what’s going on here. Let’s hire a consulting company with a founder who’s integrity is impeccable. Of all company names I think they could have made a wiser choice.

    Even though there are probably a couple good in house candidates for the position, they won’t promote from within. It’s all smoke and mirrors while they hire a “seat warmer” for when the Dolby family is “Ready”


  13. When are people going to learn that time served does not qualify one for administration. Its a classic situation.
    I own a restaurant. I need to hire a new manager. I have a line cook thats been working here 25 years. Great guy, everyone loves him, customers, co workers, previous owner, etc… should i interview people with Managerial experience or just promote the line cook? BTW this line cook has battled substance abuse many times and has been to rehab and has missed 2 yrs of work. and on top of it the line cook has rallied the kitchen staff behind him and was one of the reasons the old manager quit……… I think I’ll interview the Manager from Boston that has managed restaurants for the past 10 yrs.

    • Hey RestaurantMan, You are not going to believe this, but I work at a restaurant too. It is in a rural community, and it is the biggest restaurant in the area, and a lot of people depend on it for employment. We have many decent hard working people who have given up a ton to make it the best restaurant in the area. Recently two new managers came in and they were amazing guys. Really friendly, really decent family men. Unfortunately they were related to the owners and one of them didn’t plan on staying very long as he was ready to retire soon. This guy really didn’t put too much effort in to the job, showed up late, left early. went missing during his shifts. Never put in any facetime with the customers or co-workers. One of the managers set a bunch of new standards and practices that only applied to certain people. Which was really hard for employees that have been working in my restaurant for over 20 years. Some people were allowed to do whatever they felt like, while others were asked to play by the rules. Things got pretty stressful in my restaurant. Many employees used to show up and help out, come in early and stay late. Most really took pride in being the best place to eat and work, but now most are ashamed that our business is a shell of what we once were. Many try and tow the line, but its never good enough for these managers.

      Its sad too because we had a salad chef a few years back. He was having a tough time with some mental health issues. He wasn’t the most friendly so he was tossed out. Everyone just watched as this man who clearly needed help was thrown away and forgotten. The restaurant business can be stressful and unforgiving, so it wasn’t surprising he was treated this way. He still lives in town, but he has never been back in to eat or say hello to us.

      More recently we had a line cook with some similar problems. The stress of the job really got to him. Tons of dropped tomatoes, selfish that wasn’t used fast enough and went bad, customers not liking his food. Really just struggling with it all. The owners tried to help him , an even promised to do so, but he really was struggling to get back on track. They responded to his struggles by spreading nasty rumors about him, and tried really hard not to bring him back to work when he got back on his feet. They had no regard how this might hurt his family and friends. Luckily the staff really respected the over 20 years of flawless cooking before hand. The owners agreed to bring him back as a pot scrubber, and if he cleaned all the dirty dishes long enough he would be allowed to cook again. It wasn’t glamorous, but he did it. The worst part was the previous dish washers were moved up to line cooks and no longer respected his 20 plus years of restaurant work.

      I think I would like a fair, open process that includes any and all candidates. Maybe there are some line cooks with some great ideas, maybe not. Shouldn’t we listen and see what they have to offer. Also listen to outside managers and see what they will bring. Lets have a fair process for the next restaurant manager. How can you say working in this Restaurant for over 20 years hasn’t prepared some employees to move forward. How would anyone ever become a manager if that was the case? Closing the door on having an open mind is not the best way to find the best people.

      but in any case good luck with your restaurant, hopefully it works out better than mine 🙂

      • WOW InTheKnow you really were in the restaurant business. The craziness you described is exactly what my place was like. All candidates should be allowed to apply. I am sure there are some minimum requirements. I believe they will require a Bachelors Degree and possibly some administrative and fiscal management background. All this is not required in the restaurant biz. I would hire your line cook as an assistant manager. Should I send an application?

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