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Feb 13, 2015 9:43 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Village Board Kills Commissioner Proposal

Feb 17, 2015 3:53 PM

The Westhampton Beach Village Board’s plan to create a highly paid police commissioner position for the Village Police Department is dead.

After receiving an unprecedented amount of backlash to the proposal during a public hearing on February 5, the Village Board held a work session last Thursday evening, February 12, and came to the unanimous conclusion that the plan should be dropped.

“I just feel we can’t ignore the public input we’ve had and, at this point, pursuing the position of police commissioner would be counterproductive,” Trustee Ralph Urban said during the meeting.

Mayor Maria Moore went around the table asking each board member if they agreed that the plan should be dropped, and all did.

After establishing that some assistance would benefit Chief Trevor Gonce in getting the department accredited, the board discussed adding other positions, such as a clerical secretary or a police operations aide, to the payroll. Village Attorney Steve Angel also proposed exploring options for outside consultants. The proposed commissioner would have earned as much as 5 percent more than Chief Gonce’s annual salary.

“Assistance would be great,” the chief said. “Right now, I’m short-staffed, so I can’t pull someone off the road to help me [with accreditation].”

Chief Gonce, whose base salary is about $148,500, said he knows someone from a local police department who has already gone through the accreditation process who would be willing to provide some assistance free of charge.

Unlike most work sessions, members of the public were not able to join in the board’s conversation during last Thursday night’s meeting.

“We’ve been lax on this in the past, but we do not have to allow public comment during a work session,” Ms. Moore said.

This point was contested by longtime village resident and author of the On The Beach Blog Dean Speir, who said it had long been customary for the board to engage the public during its work sessions. Mr. Speir argued that previous boards had set a historical precedent over the past 31 years, but Mr. Angel said that precedent did not trump the current board’s legal obligations.

At the end of the meeting, the board adjourned to an executive session to discuss how the candidates they had been considering for the police commissioner position might fit in with their revamped plans. Specifically, they were expected to discuss if any of those candidates, whom they have declined to identify, would fit in as a police operations aide. Typically, such a post is filled by someone with police experience, according to Chief Gonce.

Even this portion of the meeting did not unfold without some slight opposition. Mr. Speir questioned Ms. Moore’s stated purpose for going into executive session, which, she said, was “to discuss the particular qualifications of certain candidates.” He questioned how the board could evaluate “qualifications for particular candidates” when the board had not yet defined the duties of the position they’re seeking to fill.

“Since you haven’t defined the job or put out a notice, what candidates have you got for what?” Mr. Speir asked.

“That’s what we’re going to talk about,” Ms. Moore replied timidly.

Deputy Mayor Charlie Palmer said the board would discuss how the candidates they previously interviewed would fit into the position of police operations aide, to which Mr. Speir pointed out that the duties of such a position vary from department to department and, therefore, the board should have the position clearly defined before going behind closed doors to discuss who could best fill it.

As the verbal exchange began to escalate, Mr. Angel stepped in once again to defend the board, this time armed with an excerpt from the New York State Open Meetings Law.

“In preparation for this evening, I did pull out the applicable vision of the Open Meetings Law, and I think you may want to revise the motion,” Mr. Angel told the board. “I think you want to go into executive session to discuss matters leading to the employment/promotion of a particular person for a job within the village or a consultant position in the village.

“That is a specific statutory purpose for the executive session,” he concluded.

So moved the board, and the public portion of the meeting was closed.

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The Mayor finally accomplished something that benefits the tax payers of the village, bravo !! It only took 71/2 months. This village has done its own worst marketing with its constant bashing of the PD. Its been 20-25 yrs of hearing about problems in the PD and it has consumed so much time of the village boards dealing with this. What buisnesses in their right mind would want to come here, when nothing is getting accomplished to help buisnesses cause everyone on the board is always fighting over ...more
By Hollywood (86), Westhampton Beach on Feb 13, 15 11:17 AM
1 member liked this comment
why not simply get rid of the 10 officer police department and use the money saved to reduce taxes? is there that much for them to do in westhampton village? how many arrests have they made in the last year? for what crimes? how many suspicious incidents have been referred to other law enforcement agencies? what is the goal of the westhampton village police department? these are simple questions, is there accountability?
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Feb 13, 15 5:39 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By HELPINGWHB (2), Westhampton on Feb 14, 15 9:23 AM
Police Operations Aide is a Competitive Title with Civil Service and anyone with a HS Diploma can take the test (no police exp required and the Village must hire from the top three test scorers and may be very unhappy with the experience/hire this brings in with this job title creation). The Village is best off hiring a Confidential Secretary who can work with the Lt., Board, Mayor, Department and Public amicably together, serve and assist Lt. Gonce and get the Department accredited. If the Village ...more
By HELPINGWHB (2), Westhampton on Feb 14, 15 9:23 AM
I hope Mayor Moore and the trustees will turn their attention to litigation involving the eruv proposed for WHB. Legal costs of WHB, Southampton, Quogue and Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv have already passed the $1 million mark. I say "proposed" because no one can find any of the needed "lechis" on utility poles in WHB for the eruv that supposedly was erected last summer.
By JackO'Dwyer (16), New York on Feb 14, 15 11:42 AM
Let's get the Westhampton Beach Village Police Department on this immediately:
"The Case of the Missing Lechis!"
oops, wait, they just referred the case to the Suffolk County Police..that was a close call, a Village Police Officer might have had to look up at a few telephone poles. It's a dangerous assignment, might have gotten a crimp in their neck from looking up and had to go on 100% disability pay for the next 60 years...
By dfree (818), hampton bays on Feb 14, 15 9:45 PM
Why would a tiny rinky dink department like WHB need a commissioner? They are glorified night watchmen, not real cops! The Chief wouldn't even be equivalent to a first line supervisor(Sergeant) in the County Police Department. A Sergeant in the County PD supervises 12-15 officers.
By mtkfish (59), montauk on Feb 19, 15 11:51 AM
Really? Ms. Moore replied "timidly?" What utter nonsense. Mayor Moore was exercising her considerable diplomatic skills in the face of what can only be described as the obstreperous and - let's be real here - borderline delusional carrying-on of one observer who treats these proceedings with all the cynicism and ugliness he can muster. Covering the meeting is one thing. Attempting to qualify the manner in which Mayor Moore responded to this fool is just amateur reporting.
By CountryMouse (8), westhampton beach on Feb 24, 15 3:45 PM