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East Lyme removes first selectman from Board of Police Commissioners

East Lyme — The Board of Selectmen voted to modify an ordinance overseeing the Board of Police Commissioners last week by removing the first selectman from its roster of members.

The change was passed 5-1, with Selectman Rose Ann Hardy opposed. The change will take effect in January, when the Board of Selectmen will begin the process of appointing a new member to the board.

The change, according to First Selectman Mark Nickerson and Police Commission Chairman Dan Price, will not drastically affect the way the commission functions now, but will only remove the first selectman as a voting member. Nickerson will remain an ex-officio member, allowing him to participate in its meetings.

All members of the commission are appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Until last week's modification, the first selectmen was automatically a member of the commission. The chief of police reports to the commission but is not a member.     

Earlier this year, the Police Commission voted to recommend that the first selectman be removed from the commission because members felt the first selectman's presence as a voting member created a conflict of interest, especially in the area of budgeting.

"The office of first selectman may have one purview or one view of certain things and the police commission may have another," Price told the Board of Selectmen last month. "The first selectman's job is to run the entire town and take account of everything, the budget primarily. The police commission's job is to do what's best for the police department. Period. Now sometimes the two don't align."

Nickerson, who supported the change, saying it was the next logical step for the commission now that the town has successfully operated its own independent police force for more than two years after participating in the state's Resident State Trooper program for decades.

Price likened the change to the Board of Education or the Parks and Recreation Commission, which have jurisdiction over hiring their own employees, without the first selectman having a vote.

The police commission would continue to function in a similar way, Price had said — governing the police department, appointing, promoting and removing officers and members of the department. The commission requires Board of Selectmen approval for the police budget.

But Hardy said the change would work against the town's original charter, which was written in the 1950s and states that the first selectman should function as the town's chief of police.

Hardy acknowledged last month that the charter had made more sense when the town functioned under the resident state trooper program and which included oversight of the town's constables. Still, she felt the town should hold true to its original charter, while speaking to her fellow selectmen.

"I think even when the town charter was written, even though it was in the '50s, I think there was a specific reason why they made the first selectman's position to be chief of police," Hardy said last week. "I think we have done a good job of appointing members to the commission. But the first selectman carries more weight because he or she has been elected by the majority of the townspeople and that's quite different than being appointed."

A November 2016 ordinance modification removed the first selectman as the chief of police.

At last week's Board of Selectmen meeting, Selectmen Kevin Seery and Dan Cunningham said they agreed with the modification, stating it was logical as Nickerson could face a conflict of interest during commission votes. Seery also mentioned that from his research, it seemed typical in Connecticut for first selectmen to not be members of police commissions.

Cunningham added, "If the first selectman is also a voting member of the board, it may give the appearance of too much influence by the first selectman, and I think that's a concern," while also stating that the Board of Selectmen's influence over the commission should be limited to its appointment of commission members.


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