By LIZ BUTTON
The city has appointed Rye police Lt. Robert Falk interim police commissioner to serve for a period of 30 days beginning Jan. 16, the final date of employment for Police Commissioner William Connors.
Falk, 55, will hold the position for a month while the new City Council under Republican Mayor Joe Sack finds a permanent replacement for Connors, who served as Rye’s police commissioner from 2001. The council is currently conducting a search with the help of nonprofit search firm ICMA, or International City/County Management Association, for a permanent replacement.
Lt. Falk has been a member of the Rye police force for 33 years and currently serves as the department’s patrol commander. A patrol lieutenant since 1993, he is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va.
As interim commissioner, Falk’s new duties include “a good portion of what Commissioner Connors did,” Falk said. Lt. Jeffrey Reichert is also helping out with the rest of the commissioner duties, Falk said.
City Manager Scott Pickup, who made the appointment, said that Falk’s current role as patrol commander will be strengthened to become more of a commissioner’s supervisory role that involves added duties related to the patrol force.
Like Falk, Reichert’s new duties for the next 30 days are also similar to his current ones as the department’s commanding officer of investigations/administration. His job will now also include any administrative support functions that Connors was in charge of, including staff records and payroll. The two officers will receive a stipend for their added responsibilities.
Falk said he thinks the decision to appoint an interim commissioner from within the department ranks is a good solution to temporarily fill the position during the city’s continued search.
“I think sometimes they have to decide whether it’s better [for the replacement] to come from the inside or the outside,” Falk said.
Pickup said that he would not discount choosing someone from within the Rye Police Department ranks to fill the position. It is the consensus of the city and the City Council that they would like to conduct as thorough a search as possible, he said.
“Because this job turns over so infrequently, for reasons of due diligence, I would never exclude internal candidates,” Pickup said.
Pickup said it is possible that Falk could remain in the interim position for the next four to six months. Once the initial 30-day period ends and they have a better sense of the process timeline, the council will re-evaluate how many more months are needed to fill on interim basis.
As the process goes forward, the city may decide to continue working with ICMA, who was hired to revise the commissioner job description and train the city to interview candidates. Once that is done, the city may choose to spend more money to hire ICMA to do the second part of the process: finding, vetting and selecting candidates, according to Pickup. The city will also consider whether to contract for a new search firm altogether to perform that second stage, he said.
Newly elected Councilman Terry McCartney, a Republican, said he supported appointing Falk because the lieutenant has the leadership ability to perform the job at a high level while the search is underway.
McCartney said the city’s search for a new commissioner is going well; representatives from ICMA met with numerous leaders in the community on Jan. 9 and 10 to get a sense of what the community is looking for in a police commissioner and what qualifications would best suit residents’ varied needs.
Falk said department officers also spent about an hour with ICMA representatives discussing their ideal of a new police commissioner, as well as Rye’s particular needs when it comes to public safety, emergency management and crime prevention.
Connors, who is a veteran of the New York City Police Department and has a law degree, announced last Sept-ember that he would resign from his post, although he said the time off would most likely be more of a sabbatical from work. Prior to his resignation, he placed his Claremont Avenue home on the real estate market fueling speculation over his status as commissioner. After selling the property, Connors moved his family to Port Chester to finish out the remainder of his employment with the city. Sources say Connors is expected to relocate to New Hampshire.
Sources also say that the timing of Connors’ decision to announce he would be stepping down from the position coincided with the likelihood that Republican Councilman Joe Sack would become the city’s next mayor. The former councilman had, at times in recent years, been critical of the police commissioner’s work.
After Connors’ announcement, the city had four months to decide what to do about a new commissioner. This period coincided with election season, turning the search for Connors’ replacement into a key election issue.
During the mayoral campaign, Sack said a decision about the next police commissioner would be better made by the newly elected administration. Sack suggested a slightly lower level police official, such as a lieutenant, might take over the position temporarily before the new administration made a choice. Lieutenants in the department, like Falk, are the highest-ranking of all sworn members of the force.
In the end, the City Council, under French, voted in November to authorize Pickup to hire consulting firm ICMA for $40,000 to begin a wide-ranging search for a new police commissioner.
Now that the search process is in motion and Connors has left his position, the city will begin to make other, longer-term decisions about how to proceed.
“[The council] look[s] forward to talking through all viable options as we build consensus on longer-term situations,” Sack said.
The mayor added he was pleased Pickup allowed the council to be apprised of the decision process that led to Falk’s appointment, even though the city manager has the authority to make all decisions on hiring and firing city employees.
-With reporting by Christian Falcone