Sep 10, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The village of Skaneateles must employ a police chief and cannot eliminate the position in favor of an “officer in charge.”
This is the opinion of the state attorney general’s office in response to a query by the village board on the subject.
Based on village law, “the village must employ a police chief as long as it continues to have a police department,” and relevant civil service statutes and AG opinions do not “compel a different conclusion,” wrote Kathryn Sheingold, assistant solicitor general in charge of the opinions, in a Sept. 6 letter to Village Attorney Michael J. Byrne.
The opinion was in response to a July 9 letter sent by Byrne asking whether the village must maintain the position of village police chief after the retirement of current Chief Lloyd Perkins at the end of this year.
Perkins announced in late April his intention to retire. The village board announced in late June they were considering not hiring a new chief of police, but instead having an “officer in charge” of the department, most likely current Sgt. Marty Stevens. Stevens would do the same jobs as Perkins but his salary and benefits would remain at his current level, which would save the village money. The trustees believed this would be a prudent move considering the village, and the police department, are so small.
In researching the issue, however, Byrne determined that there was “an apparent conflict” between state civil service law and a prior AG opinion on the subject, and so the trustees decided to ask the state AG for an advisory opinion.
The civil service law states that a municipality with 150,000 residents or less with more than four full-time police officers must maintain a chief of police. Skaneateles has 2,700 residents and three full-time officers, and therefore would seem to not require a police chief, Byrne wrote.
However, an attorney general opinion states that any municipality that has a police chief as of Aug. 2, 1985, must maintain the position as long as it has a police department. (Skaneateles has had a police chief since at least 1975.) That opinion references village law as justification for the decision, but that law “makes no reference to any requirement that the position of chief must be retained” and “seems to ignore” the relevant civil service law section, Byrne wrote.
Sheingold responded that language of village law which states that a village “may” establish a police department and appoint a chief “requires” the appointment of a chief and does not merely “permit” such an appointment as Byrne suggested.
“A village need not establish a police department but if it does, it must also establish the position of chief of police,” Sheingold wrote. “Nor does civil service law compel a different conclusion. … So viewed, Opinion of the Attorney General No. 95-58 is consistent with both village law and civil service law.”
The AG’s opinion in this matter is informal, however, and therefore non-binding, so the trustees still could pursue their abolishment of the chief position and instead establish an officer in charge of the department.
The trustees’ next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 13, and this issue is on the agenda for discussion.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.