The Coastal Star

Ocean Ridge: Yannuzzi on the way out as Ocean Ridge chief

WPTV Report with audio excerpts

By Dan Moffett

Ocean Ridge town commissioners appear poised to fire Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi at Monday's commission meeting.

Yannuzzi's ouster comes at the urging of Commissioner Richard Lucibella, who has feuded with the chief over a number of issues during the last year — most recently and most heatedly over his handling of an incident in November.

On Nov. 8, Lucibella reported to police that he had found a Visa credit card belonging to a Broward County woman under a beach chair on the deck of his oceanfront home.

Yannuzzi called Lucibella and asked that the card be turned over to the department. Lucibella refused, according to the police report, and said “found property on my property is mine.” The commissioner said he had spoken to police in Broward and they were handling the investigation.

The clash between the two men deteriorated from there: Yannuzzi suggested that Lucibella might be violating the law by keeping lost property and not cooperating with Ocean Ridge police. Lucibella charged that Yannuzzi had failed again to deal with trespassing on the beach and protecting property rights and that it was time for the commission to fire him, according to police reports.

Lucibella has apparently lined up the two other votes needed to dismiss the chief, according to Town Manager Ken Schenck, who polled commissioners this month.

“Richard has the votes to do what he needed to do,” Schenck said. “Richard feels that Chris was after him for something he didn't do and took offense to it.”

Schenck said he offered Yannuzzi the option of retiring or being terminated, but the chief chose neither.

On Monday's agenda, commissioners now will vote to approve Yannuzzi's firing, effective Jan. 16, as outlined in this recommendation from Schenck:

“Over the past few weeks there has developed a contentious situation between the police chief and one of the commissioners. This has escalated so that it is creating problems in the daily duties,” the town manager wrote. “Unfortunately, I don't see the conflict ending and I'm not sure where it's headed. It is not a good situation for the workplace.

“Another conflict is the tension between the officers and the chief. This makes for uneasiness with the officers, which trickles down to their work ethic and interaction with the residents. It seems the only way to correct both issues is to replace the police chief, as he is heavily involved in both issues.”

Yannuzzi, 58, joined the Ocean Ridge department in 2006 and became chief in 2010, succeeding Edward Hillery. He has been instrumental in several multi-agency police efforts including a project to implement license tag cameras on the barrier island.

The Ocean Ridge town meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Jan. 12 at Town Hall.

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Comment by eileen r pettus on January 14, 2015 at 4:27pm

in reference to " you have to take an extreme action to protect yourself such as recording a meeting that you know will be unpleasant " is simply a statement that is unacceptable. If you continue that thread one ends up in a vigilante state. The acceptable and reasonable solution is to understand that protection means mitigating risk, and, in this case, the intelligent approach would heve been a face to face meeting with others in attendance to attest to the actions and statements of both parties. I am pro law enforcement all the way, but not for the individual who believes he has the right to be underhanded, as that is a line of thinking that could affect his subordinates, the citizens he represents, and, frankly, anyone with whom he disagrees. Not the kind of action I want to see in my senior law enforcement official....whoops....I forgot about Mr. Holder!!

Comment by Marcia on January 14, 2015 at 3:59pm

This whole situation is sad........

1.The conversation was taped without the knowledge of the party involved.

2. The process for the found credit/debit card was legally handled by the party, and it was taken to the next level by the Chief  Yannuzzi and was turned over to the State Attorney Office as a Criminal Offense,  (which was found to be incorrect and dropped).  Not discussed with the Town Manger or  Commission,

3. The deterioration and the turnover in the department has been the greatest its ever been in the last 5 years..

4. There are indeed those who "love" him, and there are many of those that don't "love" him.

5. He became Chief in 2010.... Chief  Hillery was there for 17 years, with no incidents such as this one, so he has not been there forever.

These were the facts & the statements that were brought out in the meeting. The Mayor  & one other commisioner besides the party involved, agreed with the Town Manager & I don't believe they were "bullied" into their agreement.  As Mr. Schiffour stated, when the Officers have to deal with more stress within the department than they do while doing their job, their is a problem.  A leadership problem.

Comment by Lynn Anderson on January 14, 2015 at 8:19am

Politicians are usually the problem and sometimes you have to take an extreme action to protect yourself such as recording a meeting that you know will be unpleasant.  It seems that both should calm down, apologize and do their jobs.  Policing is not easy and he has been there forever and well loved by many people. Sometimes you step on toes...

Comment by eileen r pettus on January 13, 2015 at 10:40pm

I, too, thank you, for your perspective, Dave, and I agree with  MDean. It is up to us, the residents to demand more from our elected officials. The Commisioneer in question has an obvious agenda in conflict with his position, and we have a Police Chief who recorded a conversation illicitly. Both actions are disgraceful. Perhaps it IS time for all of us to go back to the drawing board and seek representation that reflects a community that expects integrity, accountability and rationality in its management, and a top cop who leads his force with respect and character. We live in a moment where

nothing less should be acceptable to our citizens.

Comment by M Dean on January 13, 2015 at 10:29am

Thanks Dave for the historical perspective, that is very helpful.

The town hall meeting showed the biggest problem for the residents of Ocean Ridge. Namely that the mayor, the town manager and all the commissioners have severely tarnished their reputation as a credible group of decision makers for the town. The Police Chief may indeed have behaved in a manner that merits dismissal but the town residents are up in arms over how the mayor, the town manager and commission brutally mishandled the matter. The lack of transparency in their decision making on such vital town issue is shocking.

The town also has a big problem in allowing commissioners with hidden personal agendas to hijack the decision making process and enact decisions in such a ham fisted and non-transparent manner.

The residents of Ocan Ridge should discuss removing this tarnished and corrupt administrationa and all commissioners.

The Police Chief issue really shows how poorly Ocean Ridge is currently governed.

Comment by Lynn Anderson on January 13, 2015 at 9:37am

It's never the politicians stirring the pot?

Comment by Tony on January 13, 2015 at 9:19am

Thanks Dave for your great comments on the situation. I also remember the Schroeder days. The chief was loved by the residents because they did not know what it was like to work for the man and what was going on behind closed doors...As a commissioner said at the meeting when a team is in turmoil who usually is to blame it's the coach and he is fired...


Comment by Dave Schiffour on January 13, 2015 at 5:28am

So I just watched the WPTV news report of the Ocean Ridge commission meeting.  Oh how reminiscent it was....watching the town residents pack the room to capacity and cheer for the embattled Chief of Police. Then one or two residents will walk to the podium and demand the resignation of one or two of the commission members.  It eerily reminded me of the BRUCE SCHROEDER days.  For the younger readers, I encourage you to Google him.  But in a nutshell,  Chief Schroeder was the darling of the community...97 percent of the residents loved and adored him. Even at one point, I was enamored with him. But, as I later found out once the dust had settled, Chief Schroeder was not a leader, he was a dictator. And maybe that word gets thrown around too much for some, but if the title fits....

Harassment, intimidation, bullying, allegations of ticket fixing, was not a pleasant place to work for the officers or command staff. I suspect from what I've read and from what some people have told me, it's almost history repeating itself in a way sans the ticket fixing.  WHEN OFFICERS HAVE TO DEAL WITH MORE STRESS FROM INSIDE THE STATION THAN OUT ON THE STREETS, THERE IS A PROBLEM.  That is a leadership problem.  As I have stated many times in the past, Ocean Ridge was a great place to work.  If you are an officer starting out or an officer in the twilight of your career, how could you not like working at a place like that??   But, when you drive over the drawbridge to come to work and you start to get a sick feeling in your stomach the minute you turn into the lot, that's not good. 

What happens next?  Well, the Commission seems to find itself in a pickle. The Town Manager has recommended termination and they have not overturned that. The residents who were present will be filled with rage at the Commission if they believe Yannuzzi was terminated without cause.  I believe that on Thursday some sort of deal will be struck.....Yannuzzi will be offered a non-termination / retirement package, but will be quickly and quietly shown the door. In turn, he agrees to not engage in any future legal proceedings against the town.  Yannuzzi is out, the Commission saves face with the TM and the residents, and the department staff can once again start the healing process.  We shall see......

Comment by Lynn Anderson on January 12, 2015 at 3:49pm

Do your work for the Town?

Comment by Lynn Anderson on January 12, 2015 at 2:05pm

Where do you live, Bob?  Boca? You are entitled to your opinion.

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