New chief-sharing pact brings new alignment

BAR HARBOR — Jim Willis will continue to serve as police chief in both Mount Desert and Bar Harbor for another year.

The extension of the chief-sharing arrangement through Dec. 31, 2015 was approved by the Mount Desert Board of Selectmen Monday night and by the Bar Harbor Town Council Tuesday night.

Willis has been police chief in Mount Desert since 2003 and has served as interim chief in Bar Harbor for the past 13 months. He will continue to be employed by Mount Desert, and the two towns will continue to share the cost of his services. Bar Harbor will pay 60 percent of the chief’s salary and benefits, reflecting the approximate percentage of time he spends working with each town’s police department.

Willis’ annual salary will be $90,000. Medical and dental insurance costs will total $21,795.

Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt said that under the current agreement, which went into effect in July, Willis’ annualized salary has been $108,400. That was based on the concept that he was overseeing two completely separate police departments.

“With this new agreement, we wanted to bring that cost into line with what it actually would be for a chief with that many officers, with a police department of that size,” Lunt said.

Willis told the Mount Desert selectmen that he was happy with the new agreement.

At the Bar Harbor Town Council meeting Tuesday night, the board voted unanimously to support the move. Councilor Gary Friedmann said he was surprised the latest agreement includes creating an administrative assistant position. He explained he was concerned about adding expenses when one of the goals of the sharing arrangement was to reduce costs.

Willis said the administrative help had been discussed at numerous meetings on the subcommittee level. He explained that by freeing up supervisors from having to do routine paperwork, they could spend more time investigating crimes and mentoring younger officers. “The concept behind the administrative assistant is really to get our supervisors back to supervising,” Willis said on Monday in Mount Desert. “Looking at the things that are taking up their time, much of it is administrative in nature. We are taking our most experienced and probably most trusted officers, our supervisors, and strapping them to a desk.”

On Tuesday, Willis said he plans to shift one of Bar Harbor’s four full-time dispatchers into the admin slot. Those dispatching shifts could be covered by part-timers. Although the position will cost $56,000 in salary and benefits, the net cost of the chief sharing next year will be about $6,000 less, Willis said.

The new chief-sharing agreement does not constitute a merging of the two towns’ police departments. But it does look to put them on the same page in terms of policies and operations, and it calls for some consolidation of functions. By the end of January, Willis is to develop a single position of administrative assistant to the chief. The costs of that position are to be shared between the two towns in the same proportion as the chief’s costs.

The chief-sharing agreement also says that by Jan. 31, Willis will designate a second-in-command to manage both police departments in his absence.

Other goals for the chief during the one-year term of the agreement include updating the mission statements of both departments “to develop common operating goals” and update the policies and procedures for both departments “in such as way as to develop common operations.”

Lunt said the new agreement allows for more cooperation between the two police departments.

“With the old agreement, it was sort of like (Willis) was the general of two different armies,” Lunt said. “Now, it’s more the Eisenhower model in World War II. We’ve still got two armies, but they’re more integrated and working together. I think it will give us a good chance to improve law enforcement potential on the island, at least this half of the island.”

Willis didn’t disagree, but said of Lunt’s analogy, “If we could avoid militarizing the police department, that would be good.”

Either town may terminate the chief-sharing agreement upon 30 days written notice.

Editor Earl Brechlin contributed to this report.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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