Although his resignation does not take effect until December 1, the Southampton Town Board this week stripped Police Chief William Wilson Jr. of his authority and bestowed command of the Town Police Department on Captain Robert Pearce, whom, it is speculated, is in line to become the next police chief.
As the department’s executive officer, Capt. Pearce actually has been in command of the department since October 25, because Chief Wilson has been out of town, including during the chaotic days during and after Hurricane Sandy swept through the area.
Before the Town Board unanimously accepted his resignation last Thursday, November 1, the chief had informed them he did not intend to return to work prior to his resignation taking effect. He had initially been scheduled to return from a three-week vacation on November 16, but the chief said this week that he had decided to leave his post before he went on vacation. He has already accepted a new position, he said—although he would not say what the job is.
A Stormy Tenure
The transfer of command to Capt. Pearce brings an end to the tumultuous 18 months of Chief Wilson’s leadership of the Town Police. It was a tenure that included his requesting that most of the department’s top officers be summarily replaced, the disbanding of an undercover unit and the suspension of its commanding officer and one of its former detectives, and an apparently ongoing investigation by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office that has already led to the release of two convicted felons from prison because of questions about the circumstances surrounding the cases built against them by town undercover officers.
Chief Wilson frequently butted heads with Republican and Conservative members of the board—board members Chris Nuzzi, Christine Scalera and Jim Malone—over policy, staffing and technical changes he wanted to make, and he traded barbs with Mr. Nuzzi as he withdrew this week.
“I accepted the position with every intention of implementing change within the Southampton Town Police Department immediately upon my employment with the P.D. And then, for 17 months, I was stymied from making any progress by partisan, political obstructionists,” Chief Wilson said. “When you couple that with the political discord that goes on among the board—the board majority clearly not supporting modernization or progression of the police department—I believe that my decision to retire should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed the police department for the last 18 months.”
Mr. Nuzzi, who voted in support of hiring Chief Wilson, acknowledged the discord with the chief and within the board, but said it was fueled primarily by the chief’s failures as an administrator and the support for him that other members maintained even amid the “upset” of the last nine months.
“The Town Board was anticipating a more open and responsive relationship with the police chief when he was hired,” Mr. Nuzzi said this week. “Come to find out, there was a serious lack of communication on a lot of matters of finances and personnel. His insular management style and lack of communication and respect for the Town Board … was not what we had hoped for.”
Chief Vs. Board
The struggle between board members and the chief began almost immediately after he was hired in May 2011 by a 4-1 vote of the Town Board—only former Republican Councilwoman Nancy Graboski voted against the move, in which the board went outside the town department for its next chief rather than promoting longtime second-in-command Captain Anthony Tenaglia.
The chief said the board fought him over requests for technological upgrades that he said were essential to modernize the department and increase its long-term efficiency. The departing chief came under fire from Mr. Nuzzi and other board members for climbing overtime costs in the last two years, which he blamed on shortages of officers and the additional demands of Hurricane Irene in 2011. He also recommended early in his tenure that several high-ranking veteran officers should be forced to retire—a move, Mr. Nuzzi claims, that was made only because the officers had been part of the previous department administration.
Mr. Nuzzi pointed to a recent failure by the chief to answer board members’ requests for information on overtime costs. A work session on October 25 at which the chief had pledged to provide a breakdown of overtime hours worked by town officers wasn’t attended by the chief because he left town two days before his scheduled vacation.
Mr. Nuzzi said the failures were not only on the part of the chief but on the part of other board members who failed to hold the chief’s feet to the fire more often.