Patrolman to Chief: Meet Timothy Stobie
By MAX HART
You can call him chief, you can call him acting chief - you can even call him police chief pro tempore if you must.
Just don't call Timothy Stobie, Tisbury's acting police chief, newsworthy.
"I have never considered myself newsworthy, I can tell you that," he said Wednesday. "Must be a slow news week."
Reclining in his chair and framed by the expansive light blue walls behind him, Mr. Stobie seems comfortable in his new office at the Tisbury police department. Not that he has shrugged off all the old habits; he still answers the phone with the same nonchalant "Stobie." But in a suit and tie instead of his standard issue blues, the mild-mannered patrolman - who two weeks ago was appointed to the position of acting chief after 17 years on the beat - certainly looks the part of his new role.
Not bad for a man who two weeks ago had his first promotion in almost two decades on the job.
"It's not for lack of trying," he said with a half-smile.
If there is a symbol of the Tisbury police department's transitional state, it is the chief's office, where Mr. Stobie recently set up shop. Several boxes are scattered around the mostly empty room. The walls are bare save the hooks and nails on which certificates and photographs hung. On his desk are piles of paperwork, some of which he is familiar with, some of which he is not. He points to a spreadsheet marked only with yellow highlighter.
"I'm going to have to sit down with the treasurer and town accountant and figure out what this budget means. These are the things I have no idea about," he said, thumbing through the sheets. His responsibilities now include payroll, personnel issues and maintaining morale in a department that has had a challenging and sometimes disruptive year.
"It's been smooth so far," he added. "Though I am still not sure just what it is I am supposed to be doing."
It is quite the learning curve.
Mr. Stobie was thrown into the spotlight earlier this month when police chief Theodore (Ted) Saulnier announced his departure from the department three weeks earlier than anticipated, forcing selectmen to install temporary leadership while continuing to search for a replacement. On the suggestion of a consulting firm, the selectmen named an interim chief who was neither a sergeant nor anyone who had applied for the position. And so Mr. Stobie went from patrolman to chief in the blink of an eye.
"There was no time to react," he said. "There was no indication that the chief was going to put in his resignation, so it came as a surprise to all of us. I hadn't heard anything."
The only thing he had heard was the possibility of Tisbury's sharing a chief with the town of Oak Bluffs, an idea that was raised by the Tisbury selectmen but squelched when Oak Bluffs chief Erik Blake withdrew his name from consideration.
Mr. Stobie said he was glad to see that discussion end.
"It was just too hard a thing to do," he said. "It's one man, one position - but you have two departments to run, two boards to answer to. It just sounded like regionalization and they were saying it wasn't. I think it would have made this transitional phase much more confusing."
This week selectman Denys Wortman said the board is continuing its search for a permanent chief and hopes to choose one from a list of six candidates as early as next month. Mr. Wortman called Mr. Stobie the perfect temporary solution based on what he considers the most important quality: admiration and respect among his peers.
"He really has the respect of his fellow officers, and I think that is what is going to make this transition go as smoothly as it possibly can," Mr. Wortman said. "I think he really works well with his staff and it won't be a problem."
Mr. Stobie is not native to the Island, but his credentials put him about as close to Islander status as you can get. He grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and later moved to New Jersey. He first came to the Vineyard in 1962 when his parents began vacationing here, and eventually moved here year round. When he went to the police academy in 1980, he did so as a representative of the town.
And as if he needs any further credentials, he married a Tilton - one of the oldest families on the Vineyard.
"My kids are 13th-generation Islanders," he said of his four sons. "We are very much part of this Island."
Having so many years on the Island and in service to Vineyard Haven has also given Mr. Stobie plenty of perspective on the department and, perhaps more importantly, its relationship with town leaders. He spoke frankly about past conflicts - which include a bitter period when a member of the police department filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against a fellow officer - and about the often tenuous relationship between town hall and the department. He said he hoped his short tenure would yield better communication between the two, something he sees as the biggest hindrance in the past.
"I wouldn't mind continuing doing this, but I know it's not set up that way," he said. "I have a great job, and I am looking forward to one day retiring from this department one way or the other. Right now, I just enjoy working for this town, helping people and continuing to do what I can at any level.
"What I really need is a crash course on how to read this budget," he added.