By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge town commissioners have called a special meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, to decide the fate of embattled Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi.
The commission hopes that by then Town Manager Ken Schenck and Town Attorney Ken Spillias can work out a “reasonable resolution” with Yannuzzi’s lawyers that will prevent litigation against the town over his firing in the wake of a dispute with Commissioner Richard Lucibella.
On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Spillias told commissioners and an overflow crowd of 200 residents at Town Hall that Schenck had the authority under the town charter to order the chief’s termination and didn’t need a commission vote of approval. The only way that commissioners can change the decision now is with a majority vote that orders Schenck to rescind the firing.
That seems unlikely since three commissioners spoke in support of the town manager Tuesday: James Bonfiglio and Mayor Geoffrey Pugh joined Lucibella in backing Schenck’s decision; Vice Mayor Lynn Allison and Commissioner Gail Adams Aaskov voiced opposition.
“I think it was justified for the manager to take the action that he did,” Pugh said, and called the chief’s behavior in the Lucibella matter “egregious.”
That dispute began in November when Lucibella found a stolen credit card on his oceanfront deck and refused to turn it over to Yannuzzi, rekindling a long-running argument between the two men over dealing with trespassing along the beach.
Yannuzzi drew criticism from commissioners for recording an eight-minute telephone conversation about the stolen card with Lucibella without his knowledge. The chief then took the recording to the State Attorney’s Office and three other agencies as part of the investigation.
Schenck said low morale within the department was another reason for termination. Yet, since Yannuzzi became chief in 2010, Schenck has given him only one formal evaluation, and that 2012 report rated his performance as “outstanding.”