Soon after Police Commissioner Bill Connors announced he was retiring in January of next year, conversation percolated over whether the City should be looking for a new Commissioner or go back to having a Chief.
By Robin Jovanovich
Soon after Police Commissioner Bill Connors announced he was retiring in January of next year, conversation percolated over whether the City should be looking for a new Commissioner or go back to having a Chief. Rye abolished the position of Chief of Police and created the position of Police Commissioner in 1980, under City Manager Frank Culross. The reasoning then was that “the Commissioner would be an at-will employee and serve at the pleasure of the City Manager.” Candidates for Commissioner are drawn from a larger, more professional and experienced pool. Westchester Civil Service sets minimal requirements for Chief: they must pass an exam and be from Westchester.
The major benefit of hiring a Commissioner, explained Councilwoman Laura Brett, is that “the City Manager and Council have a lot more ability to replace that person if he or she doesn’t work out.”
On the other hand, it’s very hard to remove a Chief, a Civil Service position.
“Think how hard it was for us to remove the Golf Club Manager, an alleged criminal,” said Councilman Rich Filippi.
The City Council asked the City Manager to begin the process of hiring a consulting firm to conduct an executive search for a Commissioner. Weeks later, when Manager Scott Pickup informed the Council that he had found a well-regarded firm that was ready to accept the assignment, a date for a public hearing to approve the search was set. Then it was postponed.
Councilman Joe Sack, Rye’s next Mayor, stated his belief that the Council should wait. Two of his running mates, Terry McCartney and Kirstin Bucci, who will join him on the Council in January, stood up at Council meetings and asked the City to wait. Bucci told the paper, “A larger conversation needs to happen before the a City engages a firm. We haven’t examined the possible benefits of having a Police Chief.” McCartney asked the Council to wait until the new Council was in office.
“If we needed a reason to hire a Commissioner over a Chief, we need look no further than the previous Police Association president and the current one,” said Councilman Peter Jovanovich. The former is on trial for nine traffic violations, including failing to pull over when stopped by a Rye Police Officer for speeding, not stopping at stop signs, and refusing to pull over as requested. He did not show up for a recent court date. The current president was arrested last week for harassment of a Rye resident.” He added, “The leadership of the Police force should be held to a higher standard.”
At the November 18 Council meeting, after lengthy discussion and an impassioned statement by Councilwoman Julie Killian on the many reasons to hire the firm and proceed with the search — “ongoing issues at the Police Department,” “making the right people decisions” — the Council voted 5-2 to authorize the City Manager to enter into an agreement with the International City/County Management Association to conduct an Executive Search for a Police Commissioner.
Councilwoman Catherine Parker and Councilman Sack cast the no votes. Sack had asked his colleagues to let the next Council decide. “We’re the ones who’ll have to live with it.”
Commissioner Connors told the paper: “The City should have some latitude in changing agency heads. Hiring a Commissioner allows the City to set parameters on the person they hire.”