The town of Tisbury offered Police Chief Mark Saloio a one-year contract ahead of his decision to retire.
Executive session minutes released this week show that during a meeting on Friday, March 19, the board met behind closed doors with the town’s attorney, Brian Maser, to “conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with nonunion personnel (police chief employment agreement).”
According to the minutes, the board heard from Maser that the chief’s current contract would reach three years as of Nov. 4, and would effectively expire. “According to the terms of the current agreement, the board must notify the chief six months before the expiration date of their decision to renew or not to renew the employment agreement,” the minutes state.
No discussion among the board members is indicated in the minutes. Select board member Jeff Kristal made a motion to offer Saloio a one-year contract, with terms unspecified. Select board member Larry Gomez and chairman Jim Rogers both voted in support of Kristal’s motion.
Rogers, the board’s chair, told The Times that the board felt a one-year deal was the best course of action.
“Most of that debate was going on, to tell you the truth, between our attorney and his attorney. He hired an attorney several months ago,” Rogers said. Asked why Saloio would hire an attorney, Rogers said, “I’m not sure.”
He didn’t directly answer a question about whether the board was satisfied with Saloio’s performance. “We just felt it was best to take it one year at a time,” Rogers said of the chief’s contract. “That would give us a year to determine if we were going to extend a longer contract after that. We just wanted a year to give us more time.”
In a text message, Saloio, who will retire effective Nov. 5, confirmed getting the contract offer and hiring an attorney. “I decided to pursue another opportunity, nothing more to it than that,” he wrote. “Hiring an attorney is not uncommon for any contract negotiations.”
A longtime chief who asked not to be named told The Times it’s understandable that Saloio balked at the one-year deal. “A one-year contract after serving three years is an indication that the appointing authority is setting the table for his dismissal,” the former chief said.
It would not be the first time Tisbury gave a one-year contract to a police chief and then hired a new chief. When Saloio was hired, former Police Chief Daniel Hanavan was still being paid on a one-year contract.
On April 27, the board met behind closed doors with Maser again. At that time he advised the board that it had three options, to “either extend, renew, or not the [sic] renew the employment contract with the police chief on or before May 3rd,” according to the minutes. “The board may wish to exercise this sections [sic] if they are not ready to commit to a certain action just yet.”
No discussion by the board is indicated in the minutes, but just three days later, on April 30, the board met again on a Friday — this time in open session — and used a provision of the chief’s contract to continue negotiations. Saloio was not present for that meeting.
However, Saloio, in a letter to the town earlier this month, announced that he would retire effective Nov. 5.
Other executive session minutes released this week show the town was advised by Maser that the town could win its case against police Lt. Eerik Meisner, but that it would be in the town’s best interest to settle the federal lawsuit. Meisner sued for wrongful termination after being demoted by Saloio to sergeant, and ultimately fired. “Although the town does have a good chance of winning the case, there is always a potential for [an] unfavorable outcome and a timeline for resolution would be unknown,” the minutes of the Sept. 15 executive session state. “The board members agreed that there is a strong potential for the town to win the case, however added costs and risk that would be involved in pursuing litigation further could be more damaging to the town.”
A week later, on Sept. 24, the board voted unanimously to pay Meisner $400,000 to settle the wrongful termination suit. No discussion by the board is detailed in the minutes.
The board also released minutes from a March 9 executive session. The board went behind closed doors to “discuss strategy with respect to collective bargaining (police union and general union) and litigation position of the public body.” According to the minutes, which have one line redacted, the board deliberated about a request for new positions. “The board discussed the natural resource assistant article put forth by the harbormaster and the article put forth by the planning board for department secretary. Board was not in support of either at this time considering COVID-19, as it felt spending more money at this time was not responsible. They would be in favor of utilizing seasonal help to not overextend funds,” the minutes state.
Rogers said the executive session was justified as a “personnel issue,” even though neither employee yet existed. Then he added that it had to do with the union contract.
“It had to do with the union contract, I think,” Rogers said. “Jay presented it to us saying … I don’t remember exactly.”
The Times is challenging the board’s decision to talk about those positions in executive session as a violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law.
At a meeting later that month on March 24 — this time in open session — the board had a change of heart and recommended the new position of natural resources assistant.
In a conversation with The Times Thursday, Rogers, who voted for the position, reiterated his concerns with the “chain of command” for the position, which will split time between the harbormaster and shellfish constable.
“Who is that person going to report to? Do they report to one person in the summer and another in the winter?” he asked, noting the need for an organizational chart: “I’m not saying it’s a bad idea; I just wanted to see more structure to it.”
The board did not support the planning board secretary, either behind closed doors or in public session.