EAST LYME — The Board of Selectmen will hold a public hearing on November 6 on an ordinance to remove the first selectman as a voting member of the town’s Police Commission.
The First Selectman would remain as an ex officio member of the commission — effectively an advisory role — but would not have a vote . The specific language of the ordinance forbids any member of the seven-member police commission from holding any other elected or appointed office within the town.
Current First Selectman Mark Nickerson spoke in support of the proposed ordinance at Wednesday night’s selectmen meeting. He said this change is a logical step for the town’s two-year old independent police department.
Nickerson was first selectman when the town created the police force. He said that at the time he thought it was important to be directly involved in police matters, but since that time the police department had found its feet.
“Now that we’ve established the Police Commission and Traffic Authority and all that goes on with that and the evolution of the police commission, it’s now time to cut that umbilical cord and let you all be independent from this office, my office,” Nickerson said.
“And of course as ex officio, I still will have to go to the same amount of meetings,” he joked.
Police Commission Chair Dan Price, speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, said he supported the change and said that the commission will still have to go to the Board of Selectmen to approve purchases, contracts, and similar major decisions.
Price and Nickerson both said that, particularly during budget season, the commission should be allowed to make its recommendations to the selectmen directly.
Similarly, Selectman Kevin Seery noted that the current arrangement could give one elected official two votes on the same issue.
“If he’s a voting member [on the police commission], he could have two votes on a critical issue,” Seery said. “The first selectman at some point could be the deciding vote on the Police Commission and then be the deciding vote again [on the Board of Selectmen]. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Selectman Rose Ann Hardy said she had reservations about the change because it would leave the commission entirely made up of appointed officials, not elected ones.
“They’re all appointed, and there are many important decisions made involving public safety and public welfare, which of course the police commission should weigh on and have vital input, but many of these decisions don’t have anything to do with money and so these decisions are made without having necessarily to come to the Board of Selectmen.”
Hardy also noted that the town’s charter still says the first selectman should be chief of police although the town’s attorneys have said it’s OK for an ordinance to establish a separate police force with a professional chief.
“I’m going to listen very carefully to the public comment and the input, as we all do at a public hearing, but I still have reservations,” Hardy said.