Tisbury Police Chief Agrees to Accord on Retirement; Resigns Post After 29 Years

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Tisbury chief of police John McCarthy reached an agreement with the town board of selectmen on Monday, resigning from the force after almost 29 years of service.

"I think John served the town of Tisbury loyally and faithfully and created strong ties between the police department and the community," selectman Tristan Israel told the Gazette this week. "Sometimes events transpire in the past that create a dynamic that is seemingly unfair in the present. I wish things could have turned out differently."

The agreement, under which the town will pay Mr. McCarthy $53,000 in retroactive pay increases covering the last three years of his tenure, is the culmination of a negotiation process that began nine months ago.

Last June, in executive session, the selectmen told the chief they would not reappoint him when his three-year term terminates in June of 2002. Since last summer, the board has met in executive session four times to discuss the issue. Before Christmas, the selectmen offered Chief McCarthy a retirement package if he were to step down immediately. The chief let the offer expire.

The selectmen have declined to comment either on their discussions with the chief or on their reasons for asking the chief to resign a year and a half before he is eligible for retirement at full pension.

In late February, Chief McCarthy's attorney contacted the town to discuss a new offer. "Working with my attorney, we came to an agreement with the town," Mr. McCarthy told the Gazette this week.

The Dukes County retirement board is responsible for approving pensions for county employees. The board uses a formula based on two factors: years of service and the average of the highest salaries for three years. At full pension, an employee can receive 80 per cent of full salary.

The new agreement was signed on Monday. The town agreed to pay Mr. McCarthy $53,000 to raise the three-year salary average to a figure that will place his pension near the earnings he would have made had he been allowed to retire at full pension.

Half the amount in the agreement came from the town budget for the chief's salary in this fiscal year, and half came from surplus accrued in the budget for police department salaries because two officer positions have been vacant this year.

On Monday, Mr. McCarthy and the selectmen signed a contract that inserted a higher salary for all three years, as if he had worked until June of this year. An average of $17,666 was added to each year. Although Mr. McCarthy did not have a contract prior to Monday, the effective date on the contract is July 1, 1999.

The agreement included the stipulation that Mr. McCarthy release all claims past, present and future against the town.

The agreement allows Mr. McCarthy to return to his post at his current salary, without the new increases, if "the amounts of such salary are not included in the chief's retirement calculations" by the retirement board.

In announcing his retirement, Mr. McCarthy said, "I am thankful for the opportunity, which I have had, to serve the citizens of Tisbury as both a police officer and an emergency medical technician. Over my years of service to Tisbury I have worked with and served a number of remarkable people, who will forever remain part of my memory and whose friendship I will always cherish."

The board issued this statement Monday: "Tisbury is grateful for Chief McCarthy's 28 years of loyal and distinguished service to the town and Island community. John's professionalism, leadership and commitment to law enforcement have been exemplary and he will be missed. Chief McCarthy has devoted his entire professional career to our town and few words can adequately convey the town's appreciation for his service except a heartfelt, thank you."

At Tuesday's meeting of the selectmen, Lieut. Theodore Saulnier, who was hired about six months ago, sat in the chair occupied for years by Mr. McCarthy. The selectmen instructed Lieutenant Saulnier to perform all the duties of a chief but explained that they do not intend to name him formally as acting chief. Selectman Tom Pachico said a decision on how to proceed in filling the vacant chief position will not come for another three to six months.

Mr. Saulnier, who came to the force from Waltham, told the Gazette this week that the officers appear to be taking the chief's retirement "very well."

The lieutenant's post was a new one on the Tisbury force, based on the recommendations of the Wasserman Report, a study of the police department commissioned by the town and released early last year. The report found that the department "is dysfunctional, at best, with continual tension between police officers and management."

Another recommendation was to appoint a monitor for a year after the report's release. The selectmen hired police consultant Brent Larrabee as monitor; his employment ended with his last progress report, dated Nov. 12, 2001.

A Sept. 12 report from Mr. Larrabee to town administrator Dennis Luttrell declared: "To achieve any substantive change or progress in the Tisbury police department, Chief McCarthy either has to change his management style/approach or his philosophy." Further on, the report stated: "At this point I am not sure John McCarthy is able to change his philosophy or approach, a view held by many of his subordinates."

Mr. Larrabee wrote personal comments about Mr. McCarthy. "I believe John would welcome a buy-out under the right conditions. He does not want to simply walk away unless the conditions are right. He feels a bit battle worn."

Mr. Larrabee's final progress report, issued in November, included positive remarks about the department but expressed concern about the chief's position. "The only major issue that remains unresolved from the Wasserman report is the question of the chief of police," the report reads. "I believe the town must resolve this matter now, so the community and police department can begin to formulate a long-range approach to policing in Tisbury. Everyone knows the options available to the town. The town must act soon to provide the necessary direction for the leadership of the [police department]."

The Wasserman report, the document the selectmen have voted to follow strictly and have often cited in their public discussion of the department, states: "Simply firing the chief of police will not solve the situation." But the report also states, "The town must seriously consider the chief's tenure if the recommendations contained in this report are not fully implemented, and if management's dealing with members of the department does not become more sophisticated and supportive."

Mr. McCarthy declined to comment this week on Mr. Larrabee's progress reports. On behalf of the selectmen, Mr. Israel struck a similar tone. "It is time now for the town and the police department," he said, "to move into a new chapter."