MAHOPAC, N.Y. - When Carmel Police Chief Mike Cazzari retired from the force back in July, he left a long and distinguished career in law enforcement. He also left a gaping in hole in the police department and town government and it could take some time to fill it.
Cazzari spent 35 years as a cop—the last six of them as chief of police. When the Carmel Town Board, looking for a way to save money for the next budget, offered police officers with 20 years or more on the job $50,000 to retire now, Cazzari took it.
Now, Supervisor Ken Schmitt and the Town Board are tasked with finding Cazzari’s replacement. It won’t be easy, and it may take a while.
“We’ve put the wheels in motion—how do we find a replacement chief that has [Cazzari’s] leadership skills and background? Who could fill his shoes and take us to the next level?”
The big question board members face is whether they should promote someone from within the department—as they did when Cazzari got the job—or hire a newcomer from outside the department.
“What we decided to do is dual-track it and look at both and develop a pool of candidates,” Schmitt told Mahopac News.
Schmitt said promoting from within, whether it’s the police or any other department, is always good, but the board didn’t want to leave any stone unturned to find what Schmitt said is one of the most important jobs in town government.
“The chief of police title in a local police department is one of the most key positions in a town,” Schmitt said. “The chief is an extremely important position, if not the most important.”
Schmitt admitted that promoting the chief from within the department “is a good thing and good for morale.”
“If you promote someone from within, then that leaves a vacancy [at another position],” he said. “There is a promotional ladder from rank to rank that opens and it’s always viewed as a positive thing when that happens. When I was a police officer, I always worked with an eye toward a higher rank. It’s called upward mobility and officers see that. It shows you have confidence in the department.”
But, Schmitt said, the board also wants to look at external candidates.
“We want to keep our options open,” he said. “But [the external candidate] would have to meet all the qualities that we envision in a leader. We would have to have a tremendous amount of confidence in them. We are looking for someone with extensive knowledge of law enforcement and the leadership qualities and skills to take over.”
If it was just a matter of finding someone with the “leadership qualities and the skills to take over” the task might be a little easier. But there is the Civil Service exam to consider as well.
The town has been consulting with Putnam County Personnel Director Paul Eldridge to learn the best way to approach the testing. There would be two tests—a promotional exam for someone moving up from within and an open competitive exam for an external candidate. Both types of candidates would need to score in the top three. The test won’t be given until March 2021. It will then take two to three months to be graded, so the results likely won’t be known until June.
Schmitt said the board can keep Lt. John Dearman as acting commanding officer in place until the test results are revealed.
The town published a notice of vacancy for the position, which expires Friday, Oct. 9, at which point no more resumes will be collected. So far, eight candidates have come forward (one internal and seven external) and Schmitt says interviews will begin later this month.
A problem could arise if the board, acting before the March test date, provisionally filled the position with someone who then failed to finish among the exam’s top three. That person would not qualify for the job, putting the Town Board in an awkward position. Schmitt said the board hasn’t decided whether to hire someone before the test is given or wait until the test results are known.
Schmitt says he remains open-minded about whether the board should choose someone from within the department or an external candidate.
“It may well be from the ranks of the police structure, but we want to look at all our options,” he said.