CHATHAM – The new Village Board met for the first time last week, and the mood in the large, second-floor meeting room was often tense. The issue that caused the biggest divide among board members was whether to appoint retired Police Chief Kevin Boehme the new part-time chief.
The new mayor, Tom Curran, ran the organization meeting Thursday, April 14, appointing himself police commissioner. New trustee Joanne DelRossi, who was elected on the Chatham United Party line with Mayor Curran, was appointed to be liaison to the building inspector. The incumbent trustees, Lael Locke, George Grant and David Chapman will all retain in their posts as commissioners of the Fire Department, Water and Sewer and Department of Public Works respectively.
The first bump in the road for the new mayor came when he asked the board to abolish the position of village assessor and appoint the trustees as an assessment committee.
“Are we qualified to be assessors?” Mr. Chapman asked the mayor.
Ms. Locke asked that the motion be tabled to another meeting so they could discuss the issue further. Mr. Grant made a motion to rehire assessor Garth Slocum, saying “I think Garth has done a very good job.” The fate of the assessor’s position was tabled for the next meeting in May.
There were also brief verbal skirmishes over a handful of other appointments recommended by the mayor but rejected by a majority of the board.
The proposal to hire Kevin Boehme as a part-time police chief first came to the board when it was proposed last month by the outgoing mayor, Paul Boehme, at the end of his last meeting as mayor. Chief Boehme — the chief and the former mayor are brothers — retired in March after 35 years as the full-time police chief, and the proposal to rehire him in a part-time position appeared to come as a surprise to other members of the board. After some discussion, the board voted to table the proposal until the April meeting.
The former chief subsequently submitted a one-page proposal requesting to be paid $24 an hour for up to 20 hours per week of work, with no benefits. Under state retirement laws the chief is limited in how much pay he may receive before his income affects his pension.
Before Kevin Boehme’s retirement, the Police Department in Chatham had four fulltime officers. But at last week’s meeting, Deputy Chief Mark Leggett said he would also change his status from full-time to part-time, cutting his salary in half. He currently does not receive benefits from the village.
“I’m not ready to approve this until we’ve gone through our budgeting process,” Mayor Curran said. Ms. DelRossi echoed that statement, saying that the board should not take on any more expenses until it has approved its spending plan for the next fiscal year.
But Mr. Grant and Mr. Chapman supported bringing the chief back immediately. Mr. Chapman talked about the savings to village in benefit costs and salary. “It’s a good move,” he said.
Ms. Locke was the one undecided vote, and when asked her position on the measure she said she would vote yes although she said the “timing” was wrong, a point she repeated several times. “It’s a good idea but it’s a bad time,” she said.
The audience of approximately 50 people at the meeting in the Tracy Memorial last week included many of the 10 part-time village police officers, and Ms. Locke acknowledged their presence. As she concluded her statements, members of the audience insisted that she had voted yes on rehiring the chief and called out to the board to finalize the results.
Without further objection, Chief Boehme was appointed as the new part-time chief in a 3-to-2 vote. Reportedly, he was back on the duty the next day.
The board is hosting several budget workshop meetings this month before the deadline for approval of the budget at the beginning of May. The village fiscal year runs from June 1 to May 31.
The board will hold a workshop meeting on Thursday April 28 at 7:30pm in the Tracy Memorial. The next regular meeting will be Thursday May 12.