Town Manager Steve Burns decided to go with the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” in choosing the town’s next police chief. Citing what he called a highly functioning department, Burns promoted Capt. Charles Szeniawski to the chief’s position rather than engaging in an outside search.
Following the announcement at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting Monday, Szeniawski said he thanks Burns, the select board and Human Resources Manager Kathryn Lagasse “for the faith in backing me; to say, yes, take this on, go ahead. I can assure you my goal is to make this a continuous, more progressive and more professional police department.”
Chief Douglas Bracy announced his retirement last month, with his final day on July 11 and an official retirement date of July 31. Szeniawski, as captain, is the second in command at the department and will become interim chief July 12 and be hired as permanent chief Aug. 1.
Burns said in a later interview, he initially did expect to go outside the department to search for a new chief.
“That would have been my expectation until about two months ago,” he said. “What changed my mind, really, was the level of succession planning they’ve got in the police department.
“Doug has been grooming these guys, you see that in the union contract, that there’s a requirement that you promote from within. But with the command staff, that’s also been the pattern. Sergeants have become lieutenants, lieutenants have become captains or chiefs. Each and every one has come up through the ranks. I didn’t see any reason to bring in a change agent.”
He said if he hired from outside, “that leaves everybody right where they are and eliminates upward mobility at the higher levels of the department, and I might lose some of those folks. And I don’t want to do that.”
Szeniawski has been with the police department for 39 years, coming in just a few years after Bracy was hired, and has followed the progression up the ranks.
Burns said he also believes Szeniawski will be the best person for the job. “He knows the community. I think that’s first and foremost. You look at somebody coming in from the outside, especially in a high-profile job like this one. My concern is you get someone from the outside who doesn’t know the community.”
Burns also cited Szeniawski’s “depth of experience” with the police department. Szeniawski is a certified chief in the state of Maine. “Not all chiefs are certified, and he already is. He’s made it to that level of certification.”
Burns said salary has not been discussed yet.
“That really wasn’t the decider for me. Money isn’t the important factor. Obviously, we want to treat him fairly and appropriately, and we will.”
Szeniawski said he was honored to be chosen as the town’s next police chief.
“From your first promotion on, you’re really groomed by those above you,” he said. “And I’ve had that luxury for quite a few years and things have worked out well.”
Once he becomes chief, he said he wants to look at all of the department’s programs “and really do a new assessment. With every change, there may be things you do a little differently, but we have no reason to come in and make broad-scale changes whatsoever. We have a very efficient police department.”
He said he’d like to be up to full strength in the department within the next six months, including hiring for the position that will open when others assume the leadership roles left vacant by his promotion.
If the department has a full complement of officers, he said there could be more patrols in York’s neighborhoods — a goal of his.
“This summer, that’s one of the things they’re going to try to do,” Szeniawski said.
At the conclusion of his remarks, with his wife, Mary-Anne Szeniawski, looking on, as well as Bracy and his wife, Brenda, he received a round of applause from the audience.