By LIZ BUTTON
Now that election season is over, one of the major issues of the 2013 race in Rye still awaits a conclusion: whether the search for a new police commissioner should get underway before the new administration takes office.
At its Nov. 6 meeting, the City Council considered authorizing City Manager Scott Pickup to hire the consulting firm International City/County Management Association to conduct an executive search for a new police commissioner at a cost of up to $40,000.This September, current police Commissioner William Connors announced his resignation, effective Jan. 16, 2014, after 12 years in the position.
However, City Councilman and Mayor-elect Joe Sack echoed his earlier opinion that the search should be put off until he and the rest of the newly-elected council officially take office on Jan. 1, 2014.
At the council’s Oct. 9 meeting, Sack made a motion to delay any aspect of the search until the new council took office; the motion was shot down six votes to one.
Since then, the City Council has had conference calls with consulting firm heads to ask questions about the company’s approach to the search process.
“We have about six or seven weeks left in the year, it’s the holiday time…I’m not so sure how much work we’re going to get done in that period anyway,” Sack said. “If there is going to be any decision-making going on, even about how the process proceeds, it really should include and involve the new council.”
Sack’s former Rye United runningmates, Terry McCartney and Kirstin Bucci, also expressed a high level of interest in being involved in the selection process from the start.
“I understand the current council’s desire to avoid sitting on your hands for the last six or seven weeks of your tenure, and I admire that,” McCartney said. “You want to finish strong; I understand that as well.”
But McCartney said he would like to be part of the process, preferably once he begins his term. “I would join Joe [Sack] in his request to take whatever steps we can without taking any formal steps until the new City Council is in place,” he said.
Bucci brought up the possibility that the new council might even look to a police chief instead of a police commissioner, a decision that would likely make any search process unnecessary.
According to the city manager, the difference between the two is that a police chief is a civil service position while the commissioner is a management position.
But outgoing Mayor Douglas French, a Republican, said the city switched from a police chief in 1980, and it has remained that way for a reason.
“We’re not looking to go back to a civil service position,” French said. “There are very few management positions in the city that report directly to the city manager. We plan on continuing on and keeping it a management position.”
The council, as it is constituted now, is in total support of retaining a police commissioner, French said. In addition, a charter change would be necessary if the council were to change to a police chief, he said.
Pickup said that having a commissioner also opens the search up to a pool of candidates with much broader criteria and skills, rather than a limited pool from the ranks of senior police officers in-house who would be qualified to take the necessary civil service test for chief.
French said that Commis-sioner Connors’ unique skills have benefited the city in many ways: He has shown leadership in crisis management of public safety emergencies, and having a law degree has helped him assist the city’s labor attorney Vincent Toomey deal with the more than 100 grievances and lawsuits that have been filed against the city from within the police department since 2006.
One of the major benefits of having a commissioner rather than a chief is the commissioner is the only member of the police force not represented by the union’s bargaining unit, French said.
“This is just one component of many things that we have to consider,” said Sack. “With all due respect, Mayor French is on his way out and the new council should address this issue and other issues, not the lame duck administration we have now.”
Sack said the mayor is trying to force the issue to a vote by the council; members agreed to put the resolution to hire ICMA up to a vote before the beginning of the next budget workshop on Wednesday, Nov. 13, but withdrew the agenda item for attendance reasons.
Resident John Carolin, a former Planning Commission chairman, suggested that the city appoint a committee of two or three people qualified to interview candidates and the top choices would be referred to the council, who would make the final decision with the city manager.
“This process of continually hiring outsiders to do a job that maybe can be done right here within the City of Rye by people who are qualified to do it doesn’t make any sense,” Carolin said.
If the city does hire a search firm, the search would take three to four months in all, and the actual selection process would take place much later in 2014, Pickup said. If the city started the search now, it would hypothetically have a candidate for commissioner by April or May.