MOUNT DESERT — Townspeople will have a chance to weigh in on whether Mount Desert and Bar Harbor should share a police chief on a permanent basis.
The board of selectmen voted Tuesday night to hold a public hearing on the question Oct. 6.
Mount Desert Police Chief Jim Willis has been serving as interim chief in Bar Harbor since last Nov. 4, a few weeks after Bar Harbor’s police chief, Nate Young, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into his conduct. Chief Young was fired in January by then-Town Manager Dana Reed.
In July, elected officials in the two towns agreed to extend the chief-sharing arrangement until the end of this year. They said that would give Bar Harbor time to find a new police chief or for the two towns to explore the feasibility of making the chief sharing permanent. Members of the Bar Harbor Town Council and Mount Desert Board of Selectmen held a joint workshop Aug. 27 with members of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association to discuss the potential benefits of such an arrangement.
Following a closed-door meeting with Chief Willis and Town Manager Durlin Lunt, selectmen here voted Tuesday night to hold a public hearing “to discuss the improvement of law enforcement in the towns of Mount Desert and Bar Harbor by consolidating leadership.”
All five board members indicated they currently favor having one police chief for the two towns.
“I think, overall, we want to move forward with this,” selectman Tom Richardson said. “But if there is a drastic outpouring of ‘no,’ obviously that could change what we do.”
Selectman Martha Dudman said, “We want to see if the town embraces this.”
Board members said consolidation of the police chief’s position could lead to an eventual merging of the two towns’ police departments.
Selectman Dennis Shubert said no one has expressed opposition to that, “but that’s five or 10 years away.”
Richardson said that if merging two police departments is a good idea, “There is at least one of us who thinks we need to look at an island-wide department.”
Dudman agreed, saying, “I think we see this potential [of sharing a police chief] as a first step in more island-wide collaboration.”