Peter Harris, the former Eastport police chief whom the city manager fired last fall, has declined a reinstatement offer from the local city council.
Harris was fired by Eastport City Manager Thomas Hoskins in September, but appealed the firing to the elected council, which held a public hearing on the matter earlier this month. The council voted 4-1 to reinstate Harris as chief, but he told the council he needed some time to think about whether to accept.
On Friday, Harris told the council that he will not return as police chief. His departure is the latest of several resignations or terminations in recent years for Eastport police chiefs. Nine people have held the position in the past 10 years, according to the local Quoddy Tides newspaper.
Harris has said his firing occurred after he and Hoskins came into greater conflict as Harris struggled to run the undermanned department. Harris acknowledged having trouble filling shifts and keeping up with paperwork because he could not find someone to fill one of the department’s three full-time patrol positions and because the availability of reserve officers was constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic. He ended up putting in long hours and filling patrol shifts himself, and falling behind on his administrative duties.
But Harris said that Hoskins aggravated the situation by “abusing his authority” and making Harris’ working life difficult. Harris told the Quoddy Tides, for example, that Hoskins felt it was too hard to contact the police and insisted Harris and other officers check in with him at city hall three times a day.
Harris said Monday, however, that the potential for continued conflict with Hoskins was not the main reason he decided not to take his old job back. It would be better for the city as a whole if he stays where he is now, which is working for the Pleasant Point Police Department just down the road, he said.
“I don’t want to risk putting the city through a continued hostile environment,” Harris said.
Hoskins did not respond to a message left last week at his office, and no one answered the phone at City Hall on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is a holiday.
The city already is moving ahead with advertising the position, City Council Chairman William Boone said Monday.
He said he hopes the council will form a committee, perhaps with a police chief from another law enforcement agency in Washington County, to vet applicants. He said he expects the city to solicit applications over the next six to eight weeks.
Boone said he had hoped that Harris would return to his job as the city’s police chief, but he understands why he has decided not to.
“I’m disappointed. We certainly don’t want to keep going down this path,” Boone said. “I like stability.”