SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Town officials decided on Tuesday not to pursue an island-wide police force and, instead, to focus their energy on hiring a new police chief.
In an update at Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Town Manager Justin VanDongen reported the results of a recent meeting with town managers and the two police chiefs regarding consolidation. He said the group recommended reaching out to a consulting firm that could help create a proposal for how to combine the three island police departments.
VanDongen said that he would like to be the lead contact for the consultant process and requested $2,000 to do so.
“As long as we call it what it is,” said selectman Chad Terry. “I don’t feel it’s consolidation. It’s contract hire, the way I understand it, and my feelings are I’m not going to vote for any monies there because I’m 100 percent against it.”
“I will say I raised those same concerns to that group,” said VanDongen in response. “The group felt like we couldn’t get to that point of having those discussions without first having someone come in and give us at least a basic overview of what they think the best system would look like, and whether it should be a contract position or whether it should be a true consolidation.”
Chairman Kristin Hutchins pointed out that if discussions for a combined police force continued, it would be in the best interest of the town to have VanDongen be the lead in the process.
“I feel like it’s our best interest to not even be discussing this,” Terry responded. “So, therefore, I’m standing with my opposition to the consolidation/contract hire of losing our police force.”
In October 2020, Southwest Harbor Police Chief Alan Brown died unexpectedly while off duty. At that time, the Board of Selectmen was given the option to pursue an island-wide police department or hire a new chief for the town. Members of the board voted in favor of pursuing an island-wide department by a vote of 3-2, with Terry and Allen ‘Snap’ Willey opposed.
“I understand Chad’s position so I think it would be useful for this board to make that decision as to whether they also would like to continue down this path,” said VanDongen. “If we’re not going to end up there in the long run anyway, I’d like to advertise for a full-time chief and get that on the table and have some stability. Not be just waiting until the last minute and deciding that we don’t want to do this. Because that sets us back another year.”
A motion to continue discussions with the two other island towns and provide $2,000 for VanDongen to be the lead of the group with the consulting firm failed 3-2. Terry, Willey and George Jellison were against it and Carolyn Ball and Hutchins were in favor.
“Time to advertise,” Jellison said following the motion.
A motion was then made to pursue hiring a new police chief, which passed by a unanimous vote. VanDongen told the board he was going to reach out to the Maine Chiefs of Police Association for guidance with the process and would report back at the next meeting if there was a cost to doing so.
“We’ll look forward to hearing it,” said Hutchins. “We’ve saved $2,000 tonight.”