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Feb 5, 2015 10:12 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Village Board Could Withdraw Police Commissioner Idea

Editor's Note:  A previous version of this story and the version that ran in the February 12 edition of The Southampton Press erroneously stated that the public would be able to participate in Thursday's meeting. The meeting will be open to the public, but there will be no public comment segment.
Feb 12, 2015 2:50 PM

After hearing a long and passionate round of criticism from more than a dozen residents last week, the Westhampton Beach Village Board is backing away from its plan to hire a police commissioner.

“I heard the reaction of the people at the public hearing, and even though we spent a lot of time coming up with this solution, I’m not going to recommend that we move forward with it,” Mayor Maria Moore said Wednesday morning.

The board held a public hearing during its regular meeting last Thursday night, February 5, on the proposed law, which would have created the position of a chief administrator to oversee both the police department and Chief Trevor Gonce, and was met with tremendous backlash from the public.

“This is the worst idea I’ve heard any board come up with since I’ve been in the village, and this should not be considered any further,” Hermon “Bo” Bishop, a former special prosecutor for the village, said during last week’s meeting, echoing the sentiments of many of the more than 60 community members in attendance.

Ms. Moore said she and the Village Board will hold a special work session today, February 12, to discuss feedback from last week's meeting, including proposed alternatives. After the 5 p.m. public work session, the board will adjourn the meeting and move into executive session to discuss the candidates they had lined up for commissioner and how they could be used to fill one of the alternative positions, Ms. Moore said Tuesday.

She said she doesn’t know what the outcome of that meeting will be, but added that, at the moment, it is unlikely that the board will move forward with the commissioner position. “We want to have the meeting so we can all discuss the feedback we received and see what our other options are,” she said.

Since first introducing the idea of hiring a commissioner in December, the Village Board has said the purpose of the position would be to assist Chief Gonce with the process of getting the department accredited by the State Department of Criminal Justice Services. However, the language of the legislation raised red flags by stating that the police chief would “report to and be supervised by the police commissioner,” essentially giving the commissioner the same powers currently held by the chief.

“Read your language, read what you’re intending to establish,” village resident Dean Speir, author of the On The Beach Blog, said while addressing the board last week. “Once you get it in place, I have a feeling it’s going to be hard to undo, because the practicality of what you’re talking about is you’re putting in a ‘super chief’ who can’t even cover a shift if there’s a problem.”

Ms. Moore insisted that the language was crafted that way by village labor attorney Robert Zuckerman to eliminate any ambiguity as to what the commissioner’s authority would be, adding that Chief Gonce would not lose any of his power. She also said the expectation would be for the chief and the commissioner to work together.

Suffolk County Civil Service Department Director Alan Schneider said that, legally, the village could not give the commissioner the duties of running the day-to-day operations of the department, because that would, in essence, demote Chief Gonce to a lieutenant.

“If they sent a job spec in to us that had police commissioner on the title but they had duties normally done by a police chief, we would classify it as a police chief,” he said. “But they already have one.”

There is no law, however, prohibiting the village from creating a position above the chief, Mr. Schneider said, though he added that he believes, personally, that it would be a waste of money. “If I were a taxpayer there, I would say if all he’s doing is going between the chief and the board, why not just let the chief go to the board directly?” he said.

At last week’s meeting, community members suggested that the board consider hiring a confidential secretary to help Chief Gonce with the accreditation work, or simply bring in a paid consultant with experience in an accredited department.

Ms. Moore said the commissioner would be hired for only three years, with the specific purpose of getting the department up to speed on accreditation and in other areas, which she did not specify. “We’re acting in good faith, with the best intentions,” she said. “In our opinion, the commissioner would work in consultation with the chief, with him and his duties.”

When questioned on the subject by resident Victor Levy, Ms. Moore said that if board members had instead hired William Wilson Jr., former Southampton Town and Southampton Village police chief—they offered him the job in early December before almost immediately rescinding it, prior to promoting then-Lieutenant Gonce—they would not have considered hiring a commissioner.

“The person that Mr. Levy’s referring to,” the mayor said, opting not to name Mr. Wilson during the hearing, “had a great deal of experience working with accredited departments, so we were not going to bring in a commissioner.”

Chief Gonce said he would like to be able to hire a confidential secretary, as are found in most East End police departments, to help him with accreditation and instead use the money set aside for the commissioner post to hire new police officers.

In his budget proposal that he submitted this past week, Chief Gonce set aside $3,000 to cover accreditation expenses and also requested permission to hire three new officers, a process which he said could be completed within just a few months. He also requested that the board keep the position of lieutenant funded in the next fiscal year. Ms. Moore has repeatedly said the commissioner would replace the lieutenant and create a cost savings for the department, as Chief Gonce and the commissioner would have had a smaller combined salary than former Chief Ray Dean and then-Lieutenant Gonce.

“If they don’t fund that position, it would kill the morale in the department in terms of advancement,” Chief Gonce said. “Maybe no one is ready to move into the position just yet, but having it there gives the officers something to work toward.”

During last week’s meeting, Deputy Mayor Charlie Palmer was perhaps the most vocal proponent of the commissioner position. Mr. Palmer said the board was attempting to create “a team to support Trevor Gonce,” adding that it wouldn’t make the hire unless it would save money.

“This resolution is not hiring anybody,” he said. “This is starting the groundwork to start something. Like the mayor said, we will not do this if there is not a cost savings.”

Mr. Palmer also had to defend a comment he made to Newsday prior to the meeting in which he stated that he wanted to “shake up” the culture of the police department. He said he didn’t mean to insinuate that “heads would roll.”

While Trustees Patricia DiBenedetto and Hank Tucker, in response to pressure from audience members, both said they would not feel comfortable voting for the legislation as is, Trustee Ralph Urban joined the mayor and deputy mayor in defense of the proposed law, although he said the resolution could benefit from some tweaking.

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If the mayor would like to get this taken care of as soon as possible then put it to bed and move on. Hire more Officers and let Chief Gonce lead the Dept. Move onto more important things that this village needs. The police Dept has taken up a lot of the boards time over the years at the expense of taxpayers, buisnesses and improving the village in many ways. Let's move on.
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Feb 5, 15 10:42 PM
2 members liked this comment
Another political board trying to do the opposite of its taxpayers.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Feb 6, 15 7:43 AM
How does a resolution to create a new position justify an executive session?
By Doug Penny (64), Hobe Sound on Feb 6, 15 7:45 AM
2 members liked this comment
The worst idea ever and no way it should be voted on in executive session.
By tenn tom (259), remsenburg on Feb 6, 15 8:24 AM
The idea of an executive session for this discussion is as wrong as the idea of a Police Commissioner itself. The mayor and trustee Palmer will try to re spin this bad idea in their private executive session. Too bad for them the public is on to this waste of time an money.

By realwhb (7), westhampton beach on Feb 6, 15 8:35 AM
The hubub over a possible police commissioner is a diversionary tactic meant to draw attention away from the real issue facing WHB--the ferocious legal attack by the East End Eruv Assn. that has already cost WHB $125,118 in charges from its law firm and a total of $884,837 in legal fees for the three towns involved. WHB and the towns also face possible hundreds of thousands for the legal fees and "damages" being claimed by EEEA. There ought to be a public meeting on the eruv and put the phony police ...more
By JackO'Dwyer (16), New York on Feb 6, 15 8:56 AM
2 members liked this comment
lechis are invisible
By westhamptonboy (227), Westhampton on Feb 6, 15 9:00 AM
They claim that lechis are "almost invisible" in legal papers. There is no such thing as "almost invisible" any more than a woman can be "almost pregnant."
By JackO'Dwyer (16), New York on Feb 6, 15 9:13 AM
2 members liked this comment
how can a board that wants transparency say they are going to discuss a draft law behind closed doors?? is it even legal?? makes no sense, just like the commissioner. and doesn't this village have like one dispatcher and 8 cops? waste in this village all around. glad I don't live there. maybe the mayor can donate some of her salary towards the new commissioners salary
By southfork11960 (14), Southampton on Feb 6, 15 9:15 AM
1 member liked this comment
The most ludicrous remark of the evening was Patricia DiBenedetto, who, when asked her opinion, stated that she is there to listen to the residents and she is "still learning her job". After 4 years as a trustee, she readily admitted that she doesn't understand the police dept. or what each job represents. It's time to get her out and get someone in who doesn't need four years to "learn the job".
Of course, Hank Tucker danced around the question and said he is there to support the other Trustees. ...more
By 313758 (8), westhampton on Feb 6, 15 10:16 AM
There's so much I'd like to say, but you all said it so well above. I guess I can just add that there seem to be 5 Village Board seats up for grabs over the next few years. I wouldn't be surprised if a dog could beat any of these characters. Unless, of course, they're executing an elaborate comedic attempt to entertain the residents...kind of like Andy Kaufman on April Fool's Day. I certainly hope so. This commissioner idea is worthy of a very, very hearty laugh.
By getalife (61), Southampton on Feb 6, 15 10:42 AM
You guys over in Westhampton Beach are a funny bunch, you really are not getting good value from your police force, since they mainly seem to have other police forces on speed dial. What is it the cops in Westhampton Beach do exactly?

This is from another local publication and is how the Westhampton Beach police force investigate felonies:
Westhampton Village police chief Trevor Gonce said Mr. Frank approached his department for help in December 2013 saying a woman, who he only named ...more
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Feb 6, 15 2:19 PM
Maybe Provisional Chief Gonce was allittle distracted with his career as a Real Estate Person to ask for a name of a complainment.. NO MORE MOORE!
By Captain11978 (3), Westhampton on Feb 6, 15 2:51 PM
By Captain11978 (3), Westhampton on Feb 6, 15 2:52 PM
Do I see a chance for Wilson to return to local Police activity without having to void his Police Chief's pension from the Southampton Village and Town??
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on Feb 6, 15 3:08 PM
Hire more officers? really? We need to commit more crimes first.
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Feb 6, 15 11:22 PM
You made a decision to make Gonce the Chief of Police, let him do his job and run the department without being undermined by a Commissioner. Waste of money
By rjhdad (73), southampton on Feb 7, 15 7:51 AM
The fact that the board would even consider this is baffling; the fact that the board would continue to consider this after a room full of people with not 1 person in favor of this position, is more baffling. This group is clueless. The Provisional Chief has essentially been doing the job since June with no problems, to our knowledge, I think he's shown he's capable unlike the Mayor has shown she is of doing her job. 7 months in office with nothing but bad headlines and no accomplishments.
By beachbme11978 (78), Westhampton Beach on Feb 7, 15 11:06 AM
1 member liked this comment
From what I have read in the press and can gather from conversations with others, since she was elected Mayor Moore has been doing the due diligence required to conceptualize and lay the groundwork for the ideas people wish to see implemented in the village.

Change does not happen overnight. As she has consistently stated in public meetings and in the press, putting new restaurants on Main Street requires expanding the sewage system, ideas for reclaiming public space require professionals ...more
By CountryMouse (8), westhampton beach on Feb 7, 15 1:08 PM
3 members liked this comment
Hiring a Police Commissioner is not getting any of what you mention done. It's a complete waste of tax payer money. She should be working on what you mention and leave the police dept alone and let Chief Gonce handle the the PD it's what they hired him for.
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Feb 7, 15 1:31 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Enough (1), Westhampton on Feb 7, 15 3:17 PM
Anyone who relies on the NY Post for reliable information is doomed to remain ignorant and act the fool.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Feb 7, 15 8:02 PM
A Police Commissioner? For Westhampton Beach? To quote Groucho Marx, "That's the most ridiculous thing I ever hoid of."
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Feb 7, 15 8:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
Having attended last Thursday's meeting, I was stunned at the sheer rudeness and thug-like behavior displayed by some village residents. I attended to hear what the Mayor and the Board members had to say about the Commisssioner position but found it hard to concentrate because of the loud remarks and heckling from some audiance members. Whether you are for, or against the proposal, bad behavior is never acceptable. I have to hand it to Mayor Moore for remaining calm, poised and professional. Who ...more
By QueenWHB (4), Westhampton Beach on Feb 8, 15 1:54 PM
2 members liked this comment
Oops, hit the wrong button.

I'm not sure that the video of that meeting supports your arch view of what went on, Queenie. (It's viewable on the Village's website.)
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Feb 8, 15 6:28 PM
The video of the meeting didn't appear edited and I didn't see anything that you say was going on, on the video. Sounds like you are calling people who disagree with this rediculous proposal bullies for just disagreeing.
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Feb 8, 15 7:51 PM
1 member liked this comment
I found the Mayor to be the one with the unprofessional behavior. She's seen throughout the entire video rolling her eyes even more so when someone stated something not go her liking. People are not bullies for standing up for something as asinine as this.
By beachbme11978 (78), Westhampton Beach on Feb 8, 15 7:56 PM
I didn't find video of meeting on the website
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Feb 8, 15 7:37 PM
I don't need to view the recording of the meeting since I was there. The microphones only record the audio of those participants who speak at the podium. It fails to catch the constant interruptions and inflammatory utterings of those individuals who seem to have very little impulse control and cannot seem to control themselves in a public forum. This behavior makes it very difficult for the rest of us who just wanted to attend this meeting and listen to what was being presented. In addition, ...more
By QueenWHB (4), Westhampton Beach on Feb 8, 15 7:57 PM
According to Roberts Rules of Order which are the rules to which the order of and in the meeting are run, the Mayor is suppose to control the meeting according to these rules and if the meeting became disorderly or unruly as you say with people speaking out in the audience then she is to take control. If the Mayor fails to take order of the meeting then shame on her. You should take up your complaints to the Mayor for not maintaining control if it was that bad.
BTW those microphones pick up ...more
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Feb 8, 15 8:49 PM
2 members liked this comment
We have faith in Trevor Gonce to lead our police force and give us service for the money we are paying in taxes. His idea to get a confidential secretary to help accredit our force and using the extra money for more police officers is a better choice. While during these snowy months we don't need a lot of officers, the summertime is around the corner and we will need them then.
By plplpj (8), westhampton beach on Feb 11, 15 3:27 PM
2 members liked this comment
Withdrawn .
By Shock (48), on Feb 12, 15 7:09 PM
The swirling turmoil of the village board with regards to the hiring of a "Police Commissioner" seems to have blinded the community to the hiring practice that the board has established, in regards to the "Police Chief" position and the proposed "Police Commissioner" positions... No one has seen fit to ask why these positions have not been advertised for applicants. Instead the board has seen fit to "reach out" to possible candidates.... Shouldn't the public be entitled to know about candidates? ...more
By Big Guy (3), Hampton Bays on Feb 22, 15 10:42 PM