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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 14, 2010

Search is on!
Altamont seeks safety commissioner

By Saranac Hale Spencer and Jo E. Prout

ALTAMONT — Having operated with a “team structure” in the police department for about a month, the village board said last week it is recruiting for a full-time public safety commissioner.

Mayor James Gaughan and Trustee Kerry Dineen now say that it was the plan all along.  Although it was not mentioned in public, the mayor said at the Oct. 5 village board meeting, it was always planned.

Dineen will head a committee that also includes Trustee Christine Marshall and long-time village residents Ellen and Dick Howie.  They will review applications, due on Oct. 25, with the goal of having the new commissioner chosen by early December.

Altamont’s previous commissioner, Anthony Salerno, failed to take the Civil Service exam in May that was required if he were to maintain his post in charge of the department.  Soon after it became public that he had not taken the test, the village board adopted a structure for the department that made Salerno one of 11 part-time officers, with Mayor Gaughan supervising the department.  Salerno was named the “team leader” of the department and given a 50-percent pay-rate increase.

 “Tony remains as the team leader of this department,” Dineen said in August, as she introduced the new plan for the police department.

Asked why the village didn’t start recruiting for a new chief when it learned in June that Salerno hadn’t taken the required exam, Dineen said, “When we were doing this thing when it was all along with the test — there were no plans at that time.  I wasn’t looking for somebody full-time.  We weren’t looking for a replacement.”

She said of Salerno, “He wasn’t planning on retiring.  With the issues with Civil Service, we were waiting them out to see what they were going to allow us to do.”  Dineen explained that Gaughan had been in discussions with the county’s Civil Service department about the village’s options.  “We were hoping to keep what we already had going on here.  We didn’t want to have change in the department if we didn’t have to,” she said.

Because Salerno was appointed provisionally in 2005, he had to pass the Civil Service exam for the post or leave the position by this Aug. 24.

“We had to have a solution by August 24,” Dineen said yesterday.  The village board adopted the team structure for the police department on Aug. 24.  Asked why the village didn’t, instead, begin recruitment efforts, Dineen said yesterday, “At that time, we were still working in August to see if we could maintain what we already had.”

Asked when the village decided to begin recruiting for a new police chief, Dineen said that it had been the plan all along.

Will exam be exempt?

“We are going to continue to work with Civil Service…to remove Altamont from its competitive class,” Dineen said at the village board’s meeting last Tuesday.  The village had petitioned to have the title of public safety commissioner put in the “non-competitive” class of Civil Service designations, thereby eliminating the required exam, but was denied by the New York State Civil Service Commission in 2009.  The decision cited: “The clear practicability of examination… and the lack of compelling evidence in support of the request.”

There is no avenue for taking a position out of the competitive class other than to get permission from the New York State Civil Service Commission, said David Ernst, spokesman for New York State Civil Service.  “They could come back and say, ‘The facts have changed,’ or, ‘The circumstances have changed,’” he said of trying again to have the position reclassified.  “We would be open to reconsideration provided there’s grounds for reconsideration,” he concluded.

“We’re at the edge of two failed recruitments… Obviously, the county Civil Service has to work with us to present to the state level,” Dineen said of applying again.  Asked if the argument is the same as the last time the village petitioned, she said, “It is not totally the same argument because we have evidence in our favor now… They wanted us to do a recruitment because they didn’t believe us.”

One of the recruitments to which Dineen referred was the May Civil Service exam, which was not publicized by the village.  “The Civil Service posted a test for the position.  That was the recruitment,” she said.

The test yielded four candidates, but, since the top three didn’t respond to a letter from the village, it did not produce a usable mandatory list.

The other recruitment attempt came roughly a year ago, when the village was seeking a waiver from the state’s Civil Service department to allow it to pay Salerno, a retired Albany patrol officer who receives a pension, the $40,000 salary for the public safety commissioner’s salary.  The village had to provide evidence that it had tried to recruit a non-retiree for the position.

Gaughan detailed in his Aug. 19 “Mayor’s Notes” column in The Enterprise the three recruitment efforts that the village made at that point: First, it told the current staff of part-time officers about the effort; second, it posted a notice in its police department; and third, it posted an advertisement on a website for the New York State Organization of Chiefs of Police, Gaughan wrote.

In the same column, in an effort to explain why the village does not consider current employees of the police department as candidates for the public safety commissioner’s post, Gaughan wrote, “Although the current part-time staff have experience with basic patrol duties, they do not have adequate experience in management or supervision.”  It is unclear why he counted the notification given to those officers about the open position as two of the village’s recruitment efforts.

According to the Department of State, there are no entities operating in New York under the name of the New York State Organization of Chiefs of Police.  There is a similarly named group, called the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, which has had a single posting since August on its jobs page for a private security company.


In addition to Dineen and Marshall, two Altamont residents, the Howies, will serve on the police chief recruitment committee, Gaughan announced at the village’s regular meeting last week.

“We talked about people who had been in the community a long time” and were involved in the community, Dineen said yesterday, explaining how the Howies were chosen. 

On their 50th wedding anniversary in 2008, Gaughan proclaimed it Ellen and Dick Howie Day.

“Dick and I were asked if we would be willing to serve,” Ellen Howie said yesterday.  “We were pleased to say, ‘yes.’”

The committee will review the applications by Nov. 12 and make a proposal for interviews to the board by Nov. 19, Gaughan said at the village board meeting.

The board will make a public decision at its Dec. 7 meeting, he said, with the hope that a police commissioner will be installed by Jan. 3.

The village has advertised in The Enterprise and The Times Union and posted notices on its website and a police website, Dineen said.  It has also canvassed the person who took the May Civil Service exam and expressed interest in the post.

When Salerno was hired five years ago, the village got about 15 applications, which yielded a pool of four or five viable candidates, Dineen said yesterday.  She also said the committee “absolutely” does not have a particular candidate in mind for the job.

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