It was on a packed house and a contentious atmosphere that a resolution appointing William Wilson Jr. the new town of Southampton Town police chief was passed on Monday evening.
The resolution, which was proposed by Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, I-Sag Harbor, and seconded by Councilman Jim Malone, C-Hampton Bays, passed 4-1, with Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, R-Bridgehampton, opposed. Malone and Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, D-Noyac, co-sponsored the resolution.
Prior to casting her dissenting vote, Graboski said she was opposing the appointment because she felt Captain Anthony Tenaglia of the was most qualified for the job.
“In my view, one and only one individual rises to top of the list and that’s Captain Tenaglia,” she said. “I’m greatly disappointed that a majority of my colleagues on the board have decided to bypass Captain Tenaglia, the most experienced and well-qualified candidate for the position of town police chief.”
Councilman Chris Nuzzi, R-Speonk, also stated he was disappointed in the process of selecting Wilson, and noted he believed the candidates from within the town police department were also well-qualified. Despite those remarks, Nuzzi said he would stand behind the board’s decision.
The tone for the evening was set right from the beginning when several residents asked board members why they had chosen to go with Wilson, the chief of the , instead of Captain Tenaglia, a 30-year veteran of the Southampton Town Police Department, who some believe was more qualified.
The comments during the meeting were not all negative, however, and in fact, the majority in the room were officers in uniform from the Southampton Town and Southampton Village police departments, as well as the New York State Police, all of whom came out in support of Wilson. The room was so packed some of the crowd was forced to listen to the proceedings from the hallway.
Throughout the public portion, when asked directly why she and other members of the town board would not explain their decision, Throne-Holst said this was “not the forum for a back and forth.” She and other members of the board did speak later in the meeting, saying it was not an easy decision, though it was based on the merits of all the candidates.
“I am outraged by this resolution tonight you are considering,” said Marietta Seaman, a former town councilwoman. “Why? Because Captain Tenaglia is the most qualified. The three lieutenants you interviewed are more qualified than the individual under consideration, and those four individuals have all been dismissed.” She went on to demand why Tenaglia had been overlooked given his years of experience in the town police department. “You owe the public — and I’m a taxpayer, and I’m a resident — you owe the public [a reason] why you are not supporting him.”
“As you pointed out, Ms. Seaman, you have served on this board and you know that this is not a forum for back and forth so I will answer your questions afterward,” Throne-Holst said.
Many other residents repeatedly asked the town board members to explain their decision, even alleging there had been backroom political dealings. Eventually the discussion turned not to the merits of Tenaglia and Wilson, but to why board members would not answer questions.
“I’m a little shocked that questions can’t be answered in a public forum with the taxpayers,” resident James Boyd said. “You have decided, I don’t know how, that this is not the forum to do it, and case closed, shut your mouth, and wait for the press to report it in the paper. The idea of democracy is that it’s free, and people can ask questions and get answers, and that’s simply what the public is asking.”
“It’s not that we’re not answering them, we’re just not doing it in a back and forth,” Fleming said.
Among the more positive comments during the meeting came from Charlie McArdle, who said he was pleased there was going to be a fresh face in the department. McArdle is a former town police detective, former police union president and one of sitting Chief James Overton's biggest critics.
“The regime of Jimmy Overton was there for 20 years as a chief since 1990. It's just going to be an extension with Captain Tenaglia,“ he said. “I think everybody here made the right decision if you voted for Chief Wilson.”
After the resolution was put on the table, members of the board took the opportunity to explain their decisions.
"Rather than choosing one over the other, I’m not speaking negatively or choosing against anyone," Malone said. "I’m choosing to add, for the progressive positive approach, for a man I have tremendous confidence in, and I know will serve our community well.” Fleming echoed his statement.
Responding to the allegations of political backroom deals, Fleming noted the three board members supporting the vote — herself, Malone and Throne-Holst — are all from different political parties.
"It’s not often the three of us agree on issues," she said. "I think the reason why we do agree on this is because Chief Wilson represents such a dynamic and outstanding candidacy for the position."
The man who spoke the least during the whole evening was Wilson himself, who, after being sworn in, said he was thrilled to be the new chief.
“I’m humbled by the faith that the Southampton Town Board has put in me, and I will work tirelessly into the future to both lead and work alongside the members of the Southampton Town Police Department,” he said.