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Dec 11, 2014 8:33 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Board Taps Gonce As Next Police Chief

Dec 17, 2014 12:29 PM

The Westhampton Beach Village Board rolled out two major changes for the Village Police Department during a special meeting last Thursday night, December 11, as it tapped Lieutenant Trevor Gonce as the village’s next chief of police and also announced that it is considering adding a police commissioner to the payroll.

“You’re gonna see this department move even more professionally, more community-based and run more efficiently,” Chief Gonce said as he read from a prepared statement after being sworn in by Village Clerk Elizabeth Lindtvit. “We’re all going to be held to a higher standard through updated rules and procedures.”

The decision to promote Chief Gonce, who has been the village’s highest-ranking officer since the abrupt retirement of former Chief Ray Dean nearly six months ago, comes less than a week after the board offered—and then withdrew—a contract to former Southampton Town and Southampton Village Police Chief William Wilson Jr., who some had speculated would be the among the top candidates even before being offered the job.

Mayor Maria Moore said the Village Board pulled its offer from Mr. Wilson, who now runs a security company in East Hampton, in response to backlash from community members reacting negatively to rumors that he was the front-runner. The mayor declined to comment on the allegation by Mr. Wilson that members of the board were bullied into changing their minds by former Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi, who lives in the village and often banged heads with the town’s former chief of police.

“The board determined that it was going to be too controversial of an appointment,” Ms. Moore said on Sunday. “I was informed by the trustees that several of them were contacted by people—I’m not sure who they were or what they said, but they were opposed to us hiring Chief Wilson.”

Last Thursday night, board members unanimously appointed Chief Gonce as “provisional chief,” a title he will hold until he passes the required Suffolk County Civil Service Department exam, which most likely will be administered in March, though the results will not be available until May or June. The exam will only be open to members of the Westhampton Beach Police Department with at least two years experience as a lieutenant. Chief Gonce will be the only member of the force eligible to take the test.

As provisional chief, Chief Gonce will be paid $172,652 per year, a more than $10,000 jump from his current compensation for this year of $162,350, which includes a base salary of $138,491 plus holiday and longevity pay, educational allowance and night differential. If he passes the exam, he will then be eligible for a contract.

Chief Gonce takes over a department of 11 officers, including himself, with a budget of $2.28 million for the current fiscal year. The department likely will not bring on a replacement lieutenant in the immediate future because, to the knowledge of village officials, no one on the force took the lieutenant’s promotional exam offered by Suffolk County in September. That test will not be administered again until 2016.

The future of the executive officer title, which Chief Gonce held in addition to lieutenant, also is questionable, as the Village Board announced during the same special meeting that it intends to create a commissioner of police post, a civilian, non-civil service position within the department. That person, if hired, would report directly to the Village Board and also serve in a leadership role in the police department.

The intent of the move is to give Village Police access to seasoned veterans from outside Suffolk County who would be coupled with an internally promoted police chief with a deeper knowledge of the village, officials said.

If the board moves forward, the commissioner would be appointed for a term of no longer than three years and at a salary that would be capped at 5-percent more than the salary of the highest-paid member of the police department, which is the chief. The report issued by the board promises a cost savings to the village, stating that the combined salaries of the commissioner and chief would be less than that of Mr. Dean and Chief Gonce.

Adding a commissioner would require a new village law, which Ms. Moore said she hopes to set a public hearing for during next month’s board meeting on Thursday, January 8.

The decision to promote Chief Gonce came as somewhat of a surprise, as he was only interviewed once by the board. The mayor submitted her recommendation to the board just one week before Chief Gonce was sworn in.

Prior to exiting office following the election of Ms. Moore, Mr. Dean had recommended that the board tap Chief Gonce as his replacement, but the trustees, up until last week, had not given any indication that they were leaning toward offering him the job. The past several months have been tumultuous ones behind closed doors at Village Hall as board members interviewed eight different candidates.

“The actions of Chief Dean had no impact on our decision on Chief Gonce,” Ms. Moore said when asked if the former chief’s sudden departure—he filed his retirement papers with former Mayor Conrad Teller several weeks before he lost his reelection bid in June—had influenced the board to look outside the department for their replacement.

Trustee Patricia DiBenedetto maintains that the board wanted to promote internally from the beginning, but said because Mr. Dean vacated his position 11 months before his contract expired, the board was not sure Chief Gonce had completed the grooming process necessary to assume the reins of the department.

“It’s always the current chief grooming his successor and, unfortunately, when Ray Dean retired, the mold wasn’t complete, because he left before his contract was up,” Ms. DiBenedetto said on Friday afternoon.

After seeing Chief Gonce run the department for six months, Ms. DiBenedetto said she now feels comfortable enough to “test the waters” with him.

A native of Westhampton Beach and a 1991 graduate of Westhampton Beach High School, Chief Gonce has worked for the department since 1995. He graduated from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and completed the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia in 2012.

He was named Officer of the Year by the Kiwanis Club of Southampton five times and given the Top Cop award in Suffolk County five times as well.

In a speech delivered to a packed meeting room full of police officers from the village and the surrounding area, as well as other residents and well-wishers, Chief Gonce thanked Ms. Moore, Deputy Mayor Charlie Palmer and the rest of the Village Board. He also recognized the officers in his department and thanked them for sticking with him through the turmoil of the past six months.

“With each and every one of these men and women, we’ve made it through the busiest time of the year with a very short staff and uncertainty in our department,” he said, referring to the summer season. “They’ve made sacrifices in their personal lives to make sure the residents were protected and, when called upon, were able to tend to their needs.”

Chief Gonce said he plans to hire more police officers in short order, though he declined to specify exactly how many or when without first having a formal discussion with the board. He also said he’s looking to add new technology, including license plate readers and body cameras for each officer to go along with the dashboard cameras that are already in each patrol vehicle.

“I’m honored and I’m enthusiastic to make the police department what I’ve always envisioned it to be,” he said after the meeting.

Chief Gonce declined to discuss his feelings about the lengthy search or his reaction to Mr. Wilson being offered the job first, saying only: “I’m just looking forward to moving forward in the police department.”

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Congrats to now Chief Gonce a well earned and deserved promotion.
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Dec 11, 14 9:32 PM
2 members liked this comment
Rolls eyes...A Police Commissioner? ROFLM*O!
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Dec 11, 14 10:07 PM
Congratulations, Trevor. The Village has made a wise choice and I wish you all the best.
By just me (1), quogue on Dec 12, 14 6:05 AM
Congratulations, Trevor. You worked very hard for this & we know you'll continue the same.
By mc0427 (9), Westhampton Beach on Dec 12, 14 7:55 AM
Spending money on a Police Commissioner, who can earn 5% MORE than the Chief of Police for WAY less work, so that the board can communicate with the Police Department, shows the board's lack of communication skills. Why do we need one?
By freelance (21), Westhampton Beach on Dec 12, 14 8:37 AM
Trevor = Great choice. Well deserved.
Police Commissioner? Are you kidding?
By getalife (61), Southampton on Dec 12, 14 9:08 AM
1 member liked this comment
Congratulations to Trevor, he will do a great job.
Why does a small village need a commissioner? Isn't the board of trustees considered commissioners? Are they admitting they can't so their job? If I was a village resident I wouldn't want my tax dollars paying for it! Where is this money coming from?
By southfork11960 (14), Southampton on Dec 12, 14 9:27 AM
The commissioner position has me baffled though. All the complaints about about former Chief Deans salary and now we are going to pay two people, who will both be making more than chief Dean almost 400,000 combined to run the police department what sense does that make. I guess Chief Deans salary and package wasn't has bad as those nay sayers would've had everyone think.
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Dec 12, 14 10:23 AM
1 member liked this comment
PS and the Mayor would want us to believe we will actually be saving money by making a commissioner instead of another lieutenant. Sounds like funny math.
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Dec 12, 14 10:28 AM
Congrats to now chief Gonce .
A police commissioner ? Are they kidding ? This is what the board said "The report issued by the board promises a cost savings to the village, stating that the combined salaries of the commissioner and chief would be less than that of Mr. Dean and Chief Gonce."
Well , the board is the police commissioners , the department isn't big enough that they need a comisioner to let them know what is going on . The cost to have a commisioner would be better spent on ...more
By Urit (24), Quogue on Dec 12, 14 10:26 AM
1 member liked this comment
Congratulations to Chief Gonce. The board made the right choice. Promotions. For the office of Chief of Police should be made from the within the ranks of the department, if possible. Furthermore, Westhampton Beach doesn't need a
Police Commissioner.
By Jimion (129), Hampton Bays on Dec 12, 14 4:49 PM
Another Teller-Dean recommendation. And even worse a "commissioner". Hopefully a one term Mayor and replaced Board.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Dec 12, 14 7:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
I believe you said you were going to run if they didn't do right by you.start making your signs yup. They don't care about you or I they only follow orders from one person and now watch what happens with grocery store.
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Dec 12, 14 8:45 PM
Realistic you realistically didn't see this coming. I guess the honeymoon period is over for you. They did make the right choice on Chief Gonce though. Even after their complete incompetence on the Wilson debacle. The commissioner idea is even more incompetence on their part but those are the people you were backing so hard before. I guess they left you out of the loop on this one.
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Dec 12, 14 8:41 PM
1 member liked this comment
Congratulations to the new Chief wise decision by the Board. Now keep up the great work & realize a Commissioner is not worth the time or money you'll spend.

Realistic you were very Pro Moore/Palmer just a few short weeks ago, why the sudden change over 1 decision which is one that was the obvious better choice from day #1. Have you run out of you "breath of fresh air"?
By beachbme11978 (78), Westhampton Beach on Dec 13, 14 12:14 AM
1 member liked this comment
Charlie Palmer is the perfect candiate for the job
By westhamptonboy (227), Westhampton on Dec 13, 14 4:54 PM
Congratulations, Trevor!
By Paramarine (28), Raleigh, NC on Dec 15, 14 12:37 PM
Congratulations to our new chief.

A commissioner? Seriously? Seems to me like someone's (palmer's) lame attempt to establish a crony poosition at village hall. So much for new ideas and progress. The next election can't come fast enough.
By winkelby (38), westhampton on Dec 16, 14 2:30 PM
Congratulations Trevor! It is nice to know our village will be in good hands. We are so proud of you!
By plplpj (8), westhampton beach on Dec 18, 14 7:44 PM