By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge town commissioners have decided they already have their best police chief candidate in uniform.
The Town Commission unanimously approved interim Chief Hal Hutchins as the permanent choice on April 6 and abandoned plans to advertise the position or consider outside candidates.
“It’s not a matter of not advertising,” said Vice Mayor Lynn Allison. “I just don’t think we can find anyone better for the job.”
Hutchins took over as acting chief in January when Chris Yannuzzi was forced to resign after a dispute with Commissioner Richard Lucibella.
A 10-year veteran in the town’s department, the former lieutenant has won praise for improving morale and shifting emphasis to more community-oriented policing in recent weeks.
“We used to have a morale problem,” said Commissioner Gail Adams Aaskov. “With Hal, we don’t have it anymore.”
Town Manager Ken Schenck says that Hutchins’ previous experience as a captain and supervisor for the town of Palm Beach makes him well-suited for many of the problems Ocean Ridge faces, including reorganizing the department. The town has three open positions to fill.
“The officers respect him, and the morale has greatly improved which translates back to better community relations,” Schenck told commissioners. “He has met with the officers to obtain their input and concerns, which has given them a sense of belonging and buy-in to what we want to accomplish.”
Hutchins, 53, says his goal is “to try to rebuild the trust between the officers and the community and the administration that appears to have deteriorated” in recent years.
“There aren’t one or two specific things that miraculously fix morale,” he said. “It’s a strange phenomenon. I try to lead by example and not manage. It’s been pleasant lately to come in and see people who are enthusiastic about their job. That’s contagious. I honestly don’t know that I’m responsible for improving morale. It’s been a combination of things.”
A native of Lake Worth with 33 years’ experience in law enforcement, Hutchins has a bachelor’s degree from Barry University and also attended Palm Beach State College.
He handled internal affairs investigations in Ocean Ridge and coordinated officer training.
Unlike Yannuzzi, Hutchins will have a contract with the town. Lucibella said that, going forward, police chiefs should serve in an “at will capacity” under the town manager, giving the town the latitude to end relationships that aren’t working without getting into legal complications.
Hutchins and Schenck hope to have agreed on a contract proposal by the town’s May 4 meeting. The chief’s salary is expected to be about $85,000.
In other business, commissioners approved Town Attorney Ken Spillias’ plan to use a 15-year-old court settlement to close down the commercial activity at the 5011 N. Ocean Blvd. building.
In 2000, the town and the building’s owners, Orlando and Liliane Sivitilli, reached an agreement to remove the businesses on the first floor by 2010.
But a series of extensions delayed their removal, and in March, the family’s attempt to de-annex the property from Ocean Ridge and enter Briny Breezes failed.
Schenck said Rob Sivitilli, Orlando and Liliane’s son, has asked the town for a six-month delay in enforcing the building’s many code violations, so that the tenants have time to move.
Spillias said petitioning the court to enforce the 2000 settlement makes more sense than taking code enforcement action, “which is starting all over again.”
One way or another, commissioners said they want the mixed-use property to be residential-only as soon as possible.
By Dan Moffett