Before even being sworn into office, Westhampton Beach Mayor-Elect Maria Moore is already facing her first challenge: finding a new commander for the Village Police Department.
Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean announced Monday that he will retire from his post on Monday, June 30—a day before Ms. Moore will be sworn in at Village Hall—ending his 15-year career as the head of the police force.
Chief Dean’s announcement comes less than 11 months before his current, five-and-a-half-year contract expires next May and means that he will forfeit the majority of his $167,507 salary for 2014-15. He will, however, retain all his agreed upon benefits.
“It’s been nothing but an honor and a privilege to serve the community I was born and raised in, and it’s been an honor to work with the men and women I served with,” Chief Dean said Monday night.
The 53-year-old chief met privately with three of the four Village Board members on Monday to disclose his decision, which comes on the heels of Friday’s village election in which Ms. Moore ousted longtime Mayor Conrad Teller—a former police chief himself and, in recent years, and advocate for Chief Dean.
On Monday, Mr. Teller said Chief Dean had submitted his retirement papers about “three or four weeks ago.” Village Clerk Elizabeth Lindtivt said she received an email from the New York State Retirement System on June 10 informing her that Chief Dean had put in for his retirement earlier in the month. The mayor noted that, prior to this past Monday, the chief could have withdrawn his resignation.
With just days before the end of Chief Dean’s tenure and the beginning of her own, Ms. Moore said Tuesday afternoon that she is planning on appointing an interim chief before launching a larger search for a permanent replacement. She also noted that she must first consult with the other village trustees.
Ms. Moore also said she does not have a preferred candidate to take on the job of interim chief, and said she has not yet decided whether Westhampton Beach Lieutenant Trevor Gonce, the second in command to Chief Dean and the outgoing chief’s recommended replacement, will be offered to top post.
“The information I have about Lt. Gonce is limited to what I learned from him directly and from Chief Dean today,” she said, explaining that she met with Chief Dean and Lt. Gonce on Tuesday to discuss the forthcoming vacancy. “I need to discuss it with the other trustees, but Lt. Gonce certainly seems like a capable and dedicated officer.”
Lt. Gonce did not return calls seeking comment this week.
As for Chief Dean, he said that he and his family reached the decision that he would retire “a long time ago,” and insists that he would have gone through with his retirement regardless of who won Friday’s mayoral election.
“I submitted my paperwork and I told them I was leaving,” Chief Dean said. “It didn’t matter whether it was Maria Moore or Mickey Mouse that was elected, I was going to retire.”
When contacted Monday, Village Trustees Hank Tucker, Ralph Urban and Patricia DiBenedetto all said that Chief Dean met with them one on one at Village Hall earlier that day to announce his intention to retire in a week. Trustee Charlie Palmer, who was not in Village Hall on Monday, said he was not aware of Chief Dean’s decision until a reporter called him on Monday evening.
Mr. Palmer, Ms. Moore’s running mate on the Progress For Westhampton Beach party line in Friday’s election, has lambasted the village police department since his first year in office for not seeking accreditation, a voluntary state-run program that evaluates participating agencies on 133 criteria based on preferred policing practices.
“I think as far as a different path to take, it’s a good thing,” Mr. Palmer said of Chief Dean’s retirement. “Maybe he doesn’t want to go down the new road, in which case it’s good to bring in someone new who does.”
Although she said it is troubling that the chief is leaving right before July 4th holiday weekend, one of the busiest of the year in the village, and also wishes that Mr. Teller had told the other members of the Village Board sooner so they would have had more than a week to start planning for Chief Dean’s departure, Ms. Moore does not share Mr. Palmer’s opinions of Chief Dean. She also does not begrudge his decision to step down.
“Chief Dean has dedicated a lot of years to the service of this village and if he thinks it’s time for him to move on, then it probably is,” she said. “We will find someone to step into his shoes and run the police department.”
Chief Dean said he does not think it was necessary to tell the trustees when he first submitted his paperwork because he reports directly to the mayor, and noted that Mr. Teller was free to tell the Village Board if he so chose. Also, he said he does not consider one week’s notice too short a time, stating that he thinks he is leaving behind a qualified replacement in Lt. Gonce.
“It’s been no secret—my recommendation is Lt. Trevor Gonce,” Chief Dean said. “He’s the most qualified, the most experienced, he’s the one I’ve been grooming all along to take my place. I wanted to make sure there was a qualified successor and Lt. Gonce is it.”
Mr. Teller, who will be leaving office himself at the close of business on Monday, June 30, said it will be up to Ms. Moore and the trustees to eventually hire a permanent replacement. The mayor did note that it is customary for the next highest ranking officer—in this case, Lt. Gonce—to serve as acting chief until a successor is named.
Ms. DiBenedetto said she does not have anyone in mind to fill the position and the topic has not been discussed among board members, as they expected to be involved in negotiating Chief Dean’s next contract in the fall.
“When you look at the chain of command, you always have to look at everybody from the top down and see who’s the best qualified and then go from there,” she said. “This definitely is not a decision I was expecting to be making right now.”
After spending 15 years as a Southampton Town Police officer and less than a year as a Westhampton Beach Village Board member, Chief Dean was appointed chief of police in 1999, succeeding Mr. Teller. During his time in office, Chief Dean has weathered frugal village budgets and a dwindling police force—he now has about a dozen active duty officers—while still upgrading technology with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to “modernize” the department as a whole.
The chief also had to endure several political storms as well, primarily those created by his contracts, as well as his sick days and overtime pay, along with disciplinary action filed against two members of his police force.
Despite being hired as chief in 1999, Chief Dean did not get his first contract until 2004, a nine-year deal that was retroactive to the beginning of his tenure. That accord was controversial both because of its length and the amount he was to be paid, which was well into the six figures.
After his first contract expired in 2009, the chief worked without a new agreement for the next two years as board members grappled with its terms. In 2011, the board approved a new five-and-a-half year deal, retroactive to January 1, 2009, and which included a clause that guaranteed he would continue making the same base salary of $167,507 as long as he held the position and until a new deal was inked.
Chief Dean said he will be glad to have more time to relax and spend with his wife, Annie, and their two adult children, Matt Dean, who lives in New York City, and Jacqueline Brower, who lives in Virginia.
“I’m proud of the accomplishments I was able to achieve during my time here,” he said. “I’m more proud to have been able to serve the community and I’m extremely proud of the men and women I’ve been able to serve with. I’m going out with a group of tremendous police officers.”