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Jan 13, 2015 5:41 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Lloyd Harbor Mayor Warns Against Hiring Police Commissioner In Westhampton Beach

Jan 14, 2015 1:17 PM

If its Village Board moves forward with plans to add a police commissioner, Westhampton Beach would be the only village in Suffolk County with such a position on its payroll, according to an official with Suffolk County Civil Service.

Without a similar municipality to compare the situation to, it is difficult to predict how having both a commissioner and chief leading the Westhampton Beach Police Department—which boasts fewer than a dozen full-time officers—would operate, or if there would be unnecessary redundancies. Even village officials have stated that the two jobs are similar.

But an official with one Long Island village, Lloyd Harbor in western Suffolk County, has had recent experience with both positions, albeit not at the same time, and recently shed some light on what Westhampton Beach officials could expect.

In 2010, Lloyd Harbor hired a police chief after having a commissioner for roughly a decade, Mayor Jean Thatcher explained during an interview last month. She said her village, which boasts about 3,000 full-time residents similar to Westhampton Beach, opted to move to a chief because the commissioner position had been causing controversy—though she declined to offer specific details.

Ms. Thatcher noted that as an appointed, non-civil service position, a commissioner can be hired and fired at will; therefore, whoever sits in the post is more beholden to the will of the local governing board as opposed to a police chief who, once hired, has more autonomy.

Still, Ms. Thatcher said she does not understand why a small village like Westhampton Beach would need both when members of its governing board already serve as police commissioners, which is the current situation in Westhampton Beach as well as other municipalities on the East End.

“Generally speaking, you would have one or the other—there is tremendous redundancy unless you’re never going to oversee the department at all,” Ms. Thatcher said. “If you have a good chief, there’s no reason to have a paid commissioner.”

After the lengthy search to replace former Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean—which ended last month when the Village Board appointed Trevor Gonce as provisional chief—members also proposed adding a police commissioner to oversee the new chief and act as liaison between them and the police department.

The commissioner, who likely would be someone with experience with the New York City Police Department, or another similarly large department, could earn as much as 5 percent more than Chief Gonce, who is now paid $172,652.

Ms. Thatcher who, along with the rest of the elected and appointed officials in Lloyd Harbor, is unpaid for her work, said it is unnecessary to pay two people to do what appears to be the same job.

“I see it as grossly redundant, I see it as a potential problem,” she said. “You’re not running the City of New York and, hopefully, you don’t have the same level of incompetence; you’re running a little village—why do you need that?”

Noting that it cost about $60,000 to hire a new officer, Chief Gonce said he would prefer if the board invested the money for a commissioner into hiring three new officers for his depleted force. He now has eight full-time officers and a detective at his disposal; a ninth officer remains suspended.

The department has been downsizing through attrition over the past six years, opting not to fill seven openings that have come up in that time because of officer retirements.

“Instead of that [commissioner’s] salary, I would like to see that money spent on officers,” Chief Gonce said. “That’s what we need; we’ve lost basically half our department and haven’t replaced anyone who’s retired in six or seven years.”

Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore has pitched the new position as a cost-saving measure, saying the combined salaries of Chief Gonce and the yet-to-be-named commissioner would be less than the combined salaries of former Chief Dean and then-Lieutenant Gonce.

The mayor noted that tapping a commissioner would not prevent the department from also hiring new officers, which she agrees are needed.

“[The commissioner’s salary] is not going to be in addition to what was there last year—it will be less,” she said. “We haven’t hired new officers in years, so we should be able to do both.”

Ms. Moore said she expects to hold a public hearing on the new position during the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, February 5.

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Why do we need the opinion of someone from Llyod Harbor? This story was a plant.
By westhamptonboy (227), Westhampton on Jan 18, 15 10:04 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By chief1 (2609), southampton on Jan 18, 15 10:48 AM
Suckers! Who in their right mind would even have the thought of needing a police commissioner in Westhampton. Who's going to pay these pensions on these do nothing jobs? There are article's now that pensions are having short falls all over the country. Places like Westhampton love to spend, and not care about their taxpayers. Westhampton doesn't need a police force, because they are always in the airport area bs' ing with each other. This new mayor is quite a gem.
By chief1 (2609), southampton on Jan 18, 15 10:48 AM
1 member liked this comment
Let's see, for 8 yrs now all the village heard about was former Chief Deans salary and why is a Chief of this small village making so much, it was on all the news broadcasts and in all the papers and from Kametler, Levan Tucker to Palmer yet now we are going to pay a Chief, Commissioner and hire at least three new Officers and save money. Funny math again or all the papers were way under reporting the former Chiefs salary.
By Hollywood (85), Westhampton Beach on Jan 18, 15 11:31 AM
1 member liked this comment
It seems as if the Trustees are looking to pay a commissioner to do their job. Are they that out of touch and unable to communicate with the police dept that they need to hire someone to report to them? The Trustees are the commissioners do your job. This administration is the worst to date and this Mayor has to go it's obvious politics and government are not your forte stick to the library.
By beachbme11978 (78), Westhampton Beach on Jan 18, 15 11:50 AM
How can a little joke of a police department have a chief and commissioner? In the county police department, a sergeant oversees approximately 12 officers. The highest rank in that department should be a Lieutenant and that is an overload! It makes no sense. These Chiefs of small departments are a joke. They wear 4 stars on their uniform like their General Patton and they wouldn't even be the equivalent of a sergeant on a large department like Suffolk or Nassau County.
By mtkfish (59), montauk on Jan 18, 15 5:32 PM
2 members liked this comment
A) Where did $60,000 come from? B) How are things at Ft Bragg?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jan 20, 15 11:14 AM