It would have been a perfect night to rob a bank in Southampton, as roughly 30 police officers filled the boardroom Tuesday at town hall. Officers lined the walls of the room ready to protest a resolution on the agenda that failed to name six officers for continuation of service, after 20 years on the force. However before they had a chance to speak, supervisor Linda Kabot informed the audience that the resolution in question would be tabled.
President of the Southampton Policemen’s Benevolent Association Pat Aube learned of the resolution and called a press conference that was held on the steps of town hall earlier in the day. Over 50 policemen and their family members crowded the front of the building, many holding signs that read “Police Protect Lives.” They returned later that night for the town board meeting.
In response to the controversy, three town board members, including councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, suggested the resolution be tabled and were set to vote “no.”
“I was going to vote against it,” said Throne-Holst. “We were being asked to make a decision without a full deck of cards. Any manager in their right state of mind would never do that.”
Kabot said an executive session had been scheduled with the full town board as well as members of the PBA and union leadership before the resolution appears again on the September 23 agenda.
At the heart of the issue is whether or not the officers have indeed been fired.
“What we have is called a continuation of service resolution,” said Kabot. “It’s not a separation of service resolution. It’s not a termination of service resolution.”
Kabot stated the issue is not about terminating the officers, but instead about which retirement plan they choose to take part in now that their service to the town has been discontinued.
Aube sees it differently and so does Southampton Town police officer of 21 years Kevin Gwinn, one of the six officers not named in the resolution.
“Just to be clear, the six names not included on the resolution, they no longer receive income and that means they are fired,” he said to Kabot. “You can candy coat it anyway you want.”
“The harm of this resolution will be felt for years to come,” he continued. “You are failing your police officers and their families, and you are sending a great message to the criminals. And that’s going to be your legacy in your short time as town supervisor.”
The PBA is characterizing the situation as forced retirement, which in many of the officer’s eyes equates to being fired.
Aube said if the resolution were to pass, it would be a violation of the New York State constitution, the state social security law as well as the town’s collective bargaining agreement with he PBA. After the meeting he said the PBA is prepared to litigate if necessary if things aren’t worked out in the executive session.
Kabot released a statement on Wednesday that read “as liaison for the town police department, [she] sponsored the resolution at the recommendation of the chief of police, the town management services administrator and the town’s labor counsel, pursuant to a succession-planning directive made by the prior town board in 2006 and 2007.” She maintained the decision to eliminate the officers was first enacted by former supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney.
On Tuesday Kabot said Chief James Overton recommended the six officers based on prior attendance records over the last five years. Aube pointed out that a number of the officers were injured on duty and that was why they missed work.
“The message you’re sending your young police officers is not to do your job,” said Gwinn. “Because if you do and you get hurt, we’re going to fire you.”
One of the officers not named, and therefore set to be retired, is officer Lyle Smith. Southampton Town once named Smith the “police officer of the year” and issued a proclamation in his honor. On Tuesday Smith carried that proclamation with him to the podium when he addressed the board. He said the only reason he wasn’t handing the framed certificate back to the board was because his three-year-old son recently asked if he could have it after his father died. Other than that, Smith said, “It doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot now.”Smith was injured in 2001 while on duty and underwent three surgeries before returning to work. He was re-injured last June in the cops and cones program and expects to undergo another surgery and be in a cast until the end of November.
“I get out of my cast in December and then on December 31st I’m fired,” he said. “Not trimmed, fired. I’m stuck and I want answers.”
Smith said he was proud of his service to the town and Kabot responded by saying “and we’re proud of you.”
“It’s really not reflecting that ma’am,”Â he replied.
Top Photo: Southampton Town PBA President Pat Aube (center) flanked by two of the six officers facing forced retirement. Officers Lyle Smith (L) and Kevin Gwinn (R)