The Tisbury select board has posted a special meeting for Wednesday with only one agenda item, the appointment of interim Police Chief Chris Habekost.
The meeting’s a surprise, since the board met on Monday with no inkling of holding a meeting again until July 13. Additionally, Police Chief Mark Saloio, when he announced his retirement, told The Times he intended to stay at the helm of the department through November.
It’s unclear what changed between Saloio and the town’s leadership. Neither Saloio nor the three select board members — chair Jeff Kristal, Larry Gomez, and Roy Cutrer Jr. — returned calls seeking comment Friday afternoon.
Reached in Naples, Fla., where he is vacationing, town administrator Jay Grande described Habekost as “a wonderful candidate” who has long served the Tisbury Police Department.
“I’m really thrilled I have a strong person to put forward to the select board,” Grande said.
Asked why the process of replacing Chief Saloio has accelerated, Grande insisted, “There’s no acceleration.” He said the special meeting was necessary for all parties to be able to meet in person. He further said timing wasn’t his call, describing it as a “select board decision.”
Grande said the meeting will be open and executed with “transparency.”
Next steps, he said, “will all be determined by Chris, the select board, and myself. It will be very organic.”
Asked if the union was on board, Grande said, “I’ve been in communications with the union representation, and everyone speaks highly of him. They support this candidacy strongly.”
Grande said in general terms that appointing Habekost puts the town in a good position to plan what next steps to take in terms of a search for a permanent chief. The select board has had no discussions about that process publicly.
Habekost told The Times Friday he couldn’t immediately comment because he was engaged in an event detail.
Saloio announced his retirement in a letter to the select board on May 17 after he failed to reach a contract agreement with the town. The select board had offered him a one-year deal, which one retired chief described as “setting the table for dismissal.”
During his time as chief, Saloio prepared the department for state certification, updated the department’s systems, instituting regular equipment and personal inspections as well as “modernizing the agency.”
The chief’s two-plus years at the helm of the Tisbury Police Department have had their share of controversy. Saloio first demoted Lt. Eerik Meisner to sergeant, and then fired him just months after taking over. Meisner settled a federal lawsuit for wrongful termination, with the town agreeing to pay him $400,000. The department is also the focus of another federal lawsuit by former Officer Kindia Roman, who claims she was discriminated against because she is a Hispanic, gay woman. Saloio is named in that suit.
Saloio’s decision to fire a school crossing guard made national headlines, and the public outcry forced the town to reinstate Stephen Nichols to his post.
Grande was asked if the town intends to hire a lieutenant, as well. “We’ve had that discussion, and that’s a likely outcome,” he said.