Tisbury Selectmen End Chief's Tenure

By MAX HART

Citing an irreconcilable dispute over compensation, the Tisbury selectmen quietly moved to not renew their contract with police chief Theodore (Ted) A. Saulnier nearly two months ago.

The board informed Chief Saulnier of the decision in a letter dated June 29, one day before his three-year contract expired.

"I speak for all involved when I say that I'm disappointed we are unable to come to terms on a new agreement," town administrator John Bugbee wrote in the letter. "It continues to be the sentiment of the board that your work here has been commendable, and it was our hope that we would be able to come to terms on a new contract."

The letter did not surface publicly until this week and there has been no public discussion about the matter at the regular selectmen's meetings this summer.

Terms of the police chief contract required the board to either renew the agreement before the contract expiration on June 30, 2005, or submit a letter of nonrenewal before that date. If the board decides to not renew the contract, the chief is given one year to leave his post.

Mr. Bugbee said this week that the two sides negotiated for several months before running up against the June 30 deadline.

"The sticking points were financial," he said. "We were interested in retaining his services for another three-year contract, but the two sides couldn't agree on the figures and ran out of time."

Mr. Bugbee could provide no detailed information about the failed contract negotiations. "It was just an impasse and both sides weren't willing to bend a whole lot," he said.

According to the 2004 annual town report, Chief Saulnier earned $78,249.60 last year.

"We certainly attempted to compromise and the board more than halfway met Chief Saulnier's conditions," Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said on Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, the two sides couldn't come to an agreement. We were up against a time deadline and while the board felt it best to go in this direction, we had hoped for a different outcome."

Chief Saulnier was tight lipped about the news, and would only refer to the letter of notification from Mr. Bugbee.

"The letter stated the reason as being unable to come to an agreement on salary," Mr. Saulnier said.

Chief Saulnier joined the department in 2001 as a lieutenant and was promoted to chief in 2002 when longtime police chief John J. McCarthy retired. Previously Mr. Saulnier had worked as a lieutenant in the Waltham police department.

The chief's four-year relationship with the town has been rocky at times. Issues surfaced during his tenure over his style of enforcement, which some felt was too urban and out of sync with the slower rhythms of a quiet harbor town. During a public discussion between the police department and the community in January of 2004, some residents said they would like to see the police department take on a more community oriented approach. A few months earlier the department was criticized for its successful campaign to acquire military-style Glock handguns for its officers.

More recently, Chief Saulnier has come under pressure to better address the traffic congestion problem at Five Corners. He has also found himself caught in the middle of a dispute between the town and the Steamship Authority over who pays for traffic control. The chief has said repeatedly that his force is not large enough to dedicate full-time traffic officers to the gridlocked Five Corners intersection.

Chief Saulnier refused to speculate about his future plans this week.

"I have no comment on that," he said, adding: "There are a lot of unknowns out there."

Looking ahead, Mr. Bugbee said the town will probably begin the preliminary work of soliciting new candidates for the post sometime this winter. He said there is still time in the next six months for the chief and the selectmen to work out their differences, but he also said the scenario is doubtful.

"The sides appear to be too far apart," Mr. Bugbee said.