Sag Harbor Mayor, Village Trustees And Police Chief Battle Over Officer Staffing

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A special meeting of the Sag Harbor Village Board, called last Thursday afternoon, August 29, to hash out the final details of this weekend’s HarborFest celebration, quickly devolved into a heated argument over the village’s police force—a fight so old and layered that both the police chief and a trustee characterized it as a “war.”

At the meeting, Sag Harbor Police Chief Thomas Fabiano requested that the board authorize the hiring of Garret P. Lake as a part-time officer for $23 an hour. The village currently has 10 full-time officers and three part-timers, and Mr. Lake would be the fourth part-timer who could be called in if any full-time officers cannot make their shift. The ensuing discussion among board members made it clear that the part-time officers are preferred to fill in for missed shifts, because the village can then save on overtime costs.

The village’s police department, and whether it is adequately staffed, has been a contentious issue in the village ever since the board eliminated one full-time position while finalizing this year’s budget. Ongoing contract negotiations between the village and its police department reached an impasse and have been handed over to an arbitrator.

While Mayor Brian Gilbride, the village’s police commissioner and the liaison between the police department and the board—and the driving force behind the staffing cuts in the department—supported the measure to hire a fourth part-time officer, Trustee Kevin Duchemin, who is also the president of the East Hampton PBA, opposed it. Mr. Duchemin said he was against the move on the grounds that part-time officers cannot properly fill in for full-time ones. He said the answer should be to be more lenient with police overtime costs when full-time officers get the extra hours.

“We had a part-time guy working alone this past weekend—he knew none of the roads,” Mr. Duchemin said.

Chief Fabiano agreed with that assessment and said he also opposes the policy in which the village automatically calls in a part-time officer whenever a full-time one is out sick, presumably to cut down on overtime costs. “That’s not what they are there for,” he said of the part-time officers.

The mayor disagreed and suggested that Mr. Duchemin is allowing his personal feelings, and outside job, to influence his decisions. “You’ve got to decide, Kevin, if you’re talking as PBA president or as a trustee with the village’s interests in mind,” Mr. Gilbride said. “You’re acting like a PBA president—it’s bull.”

The mayor added that if it hires a fourth part-time officer, the village would not have a situation in which a part-time officer is on duty by himself—as recently happened.

“[There] could’ve been someone else to call to alleviate the [issues of] the other day,” Mr. Gilbride said. “You have to realize that overtime pay is $90 an hour. This falls under my purview as police commissioner. My job is to keep the costs down in my position as police liaison, but, apparently, I’m not the person [making the calls]. I’d never interfere with anyone else’s liaison.”

Mr. Duchemin continued to question why the village would hire an officer at the end of summer. He pointed out that he had tried to hire an officer at the start of the season, which he implied would have been more logical, and was told no.

“Because you wanted to hire [him] at $30 an hour—this is $23 an hour,” Mr. Gilbride shot back. “Hiring this person should be a non-issue.”

The mayor added that he “suspects” that Mr. Duchemin had other motives for raising a stink whenever a police department issue comes before the board. “You’re talking out of both sides of your mouth,” Mr. Gilbride said.

Trustee Ed Deyermond later broke in on the argument, saying that the issues surrounding the police force are extensive and that the board should wait until after Labor Day to act on the proposal.

Chief Fabiano agreed, saying he didn’t need the extra officer until after October or November, but reiterated his stance that the department does, in fact, need more full-time officers.

“How many break-ins have we had since July? Nine or 10?” asked Trustee Ken O’Donnell. “These break-ins are of real concern. We need to have a serious discussion with all parties soon.”

“We don’t have enough full-time cops. We need to hire more people,” Chief Fabiano said, adding that his department’s detective, Jeffrey Proctor, has been tied up working on the burglary case.

The discussion then briefly focused on the break-ins, during which the mayor said he wanted Chief Fabiano to only offer a “no comment” to reporters working on stories about them. In recent stories, Chief Fabiano has been quoted as saying that the break-ins are related.

Chief Fabiano tried to diffuse the situation, saying, “Before we get into a major war here …”—at which point Mr. Deyermond cut him off and said, “Well, we’re already there.”

Eventually, the exchange got ugly enough that Mr. Deyermond suggested that they discuss the matter in executive session. “We can’t negotiate this in public,” he said. “I won’t be a party to it.”

But Mr. Gilbride replied: “I love discussing things out in the light of day for the public.”

An exasperated-looking Chief Fabiano, who at times held a piece of paper over his face to show his displeasure with the whole situation, then asked: “Can we please set a date to discuss things? This request wasn’t time sensitive. Let’s get together and figure this out and make it work with all of us.”

“Well, I know we’ll have some spirited discussion about this in the budget process,” Mr. Gilbride said about the ongoing debate if Sag Harbor needs another full-time police officer. “When it comes to the numbers, we’re on different ends of the table doing the math, I guess. I’ll wait until November when we get the bill.”

Board Denies Request

In other news, the trustees unanimously rejected a request by the Sag Harbor Booster Foundation to temporarily suspend the village’s open container laws during HarborFest, which begins on Friday, September 6, and runs through Sunday, October 8, at Long Wharf and Marine Park.

The village entertained the request because, for the first time, it owns Long Wharf: the property had been owned by Suffolk County, but the village took over ownership this year. But Mr. Deyermond said that approving such a measure “is not a slippery slope, it’s a cliff.”

“The whole thing is illegal anyway,” Chief Fabiano said about the request to suspend the village’s open container law. “We’ve just kept it under control the past 20 years, made sure we told the firemen to keep it low-key and hide everything.”

Village Trustee Robert Stein added that he would not support such a measure and then questioned why the Sag Harbor Booster Foundation is selling alcohol at the event.

“We’ll turn the village into open season, like St. Patrick’s Day in Montauk,” Mr. Stein said. “Also, we have issues of substance abuse and alcohol in our high school—and then the booster club is selling booze?”

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