Otis residents OK item seeking replacement of police chief
This story has been modified to clarify the nature of opponents' concern with the chief's use of Facebook. It also has been updated with an email response by the chief.
OTIS >> Annual Town Meeting wants Police Chief Roberta Sarnacki removed from the local police force.
By a count of 109-68, voters gathered at Town Hall on Tuesday night asked the Select Board not to reappoint Sarnacki for another year.
Voters also rejected, 142-38, a request by the chief's supporters that she be retained for a three-year period instead of the customary 12-month appointment. Both votes were conducted via secret ballot.
The Select Board annually names a chief by July 1, the start of the fiscal year.
The no confidence vote was strictly advisory, as town counsel Jeremia Pollard had ruled the two citizen petition articles on the 16-article warrant were nonbinding. Pollard told the voters the three-member Select Board has the only authority to hire and fire the chief. Sarnacki also is charwoman of the Select Board, but she doesn't vote on her own employment.
Sarnacki has been the part-time police chief since the summer of 2009, currently earning a salary of slightly more than $14,000.
She sat quietly on Tuesday as townspeople debated her future with the Otis Police Department.
However, in an email reply to The Eagle, Sarnacki said she has "always treated all residents of Otis equally and fairly."
"Police chief is a job title where doing your job correctly means that you aren't always able to please everyone" she wrote."It is a difficult job to be a police officer in today's world. I think that was very apparent [Tuesday night]."
Opponents were upset about a press release she posted on the department's Facebook page. And selectmen met with her in executive session to discuss her response to a comment on a Facebook post.
Resident Bill Dyer felt the board needed to be more transparent about such issues.
"I think the Selectmen need to step up and restore our faith in what they're doing," he said.
Others felt the town meeting was no place for discussing individual municipal employees.
"It's the Selectmen's job to hire and fire," said David Roberts. "That's what we elect them to do."
Annual Town Meeting did approve all proposed town spending for fiscal 2017, including a budget of $5.29 million, reflecting a $174,000 increase over the current budget, according to town officials.
The average single-family homeowner could see a nearly $89 hike in the property tax bill after July 1. The town's Board of Assessors will officially set the new tax rate later in the calendar year.
Town Administrator Christopher Morris cited three major reasons for the proposed budget increase: The Farmington River Regional School District assessment is up by $89,180; municipal employee health insurance will cost an extra $12,420 as premiums are increasing by 14 percent; and the Otis Rescue Squad budget reflects an additional $10,800.
Among the special money articles approved, the Highway Department will spend a total of $150,000 to replace a pair of seven-year-old vehicles; a dump truck and a pickup truck. Town surplus funds, or so-called "free cash," will pay for the trucks.
Voters also supported spending $15,000 in free cash to fund the replacement of the gymnasium floor at Town Hall, formerly the Otis Consolidated School.