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Ithaca will sweeten the compensation package for next police chief

Ithaca's Common Council voted to authorize the ethics investigation of it's landmark police reform effort after Alderperson Cynthia Brock voiced ethical concerns.
Megan Zerez
Common council members voted 8-2 Wednesday to approve an increase to the maximum starting salary for Ithaca's next police chief, following a recommendation from the consultant hired to manage the search.

Ithaca’s common councilvoted Wednesday to increase the starting salary for the city’s next police chief, as the search to permanently fill the position continues. Now, the city will offer a starting salary of up to $150,000, plus a $50,000 signing bonus.

It represents a roughly 13 percent increase compared to the city’s initial offer.

This is Ithaca’s second attempt to hire a police chief since the last permanent leader retired in 2021. The most recent job posting had been up for two weeks before the council voted to sweeten the deal.

Council member and mayoral candidate Robert Cantelmo said the pay increase will ultimately help support the city’s police reform efforts.

"I think we really do need to do our best to attract somebody who will uniquely help this community move forward around these ideas," Cantelmo said.

Police union leadership made similar arguments on several occasions.

Two of the council’s progressive members voted against the measure: Jorge Defendini and Phoebe Brown. Brown said she wasn't convinced upping the salary range would necessarily attract a candidate committed to Ithaca's Reimagining Public Safety effort.

Ithaca's director of human resources, Schelley Michell-Nunn, said the intent is to attract skilled candidates who are committed to police reform. At Wednesday's meeting, Michell-Nunn also briefly alluded to what she called "very serious issues" within the department.

"We're also trying to attract them to an organization that has some very serious issues when it comes to what's going on in law enforcement," Michell-Nunn said.

Ithaca’s search for a police chief has been long and bumpy. The police department has been under interim leadership for nearly two years now.

Last December, Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis selected interim Chief John Joly to take on the job permanently. But Lewis rescinded her offer days later after complaints from the common council.

The city later opted to hire a California based consultant to redo the search nationally — a move that's proved unpopular with police union leadership.

And with the recent sudden departure of the acting police chief, Ithaca may need to hire a new chief sooner than expected. Last week, acting Chief Joly told the Ithaca Voice he was on indefinite personal leave and that he planned to sue the city and its mayor for creating what he called a "hostile work environment".