By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Monticello has a familiar face at the helm of its police department.
But how long Lt. Mark Johnstone will serve as acting chief is up to him and village administration.
Johnstone was one of five Monticello officers who took the police chief Civil Service exam on Saturday, and Village Manager John LiGreci indicated he’ll pick former Chief Doug Solomon’s successor out of the top three scorers.
Solomon officially retired last week, leaving Monticello for the same job with the City of Beacon. His acting successor was widely expected to be Lt. William VanHage, but VanHage retired last week as well, after more than three decades on the force.
“Lt. Johnstone was next in line,” said Mayor Gordon Jenkins. “You go by seniority.”
A permanent chief, however, will be chosen via the Civil Service exam, though whether LiGreci or the board makes the final decision is in dispute.
Jenkins believes he and the board can make that choice, and he, for one, wants to hire someone not already with Monticello’s PD.
“I would rather see someone from outside come in,” he told the Democrat. “Otherwise, it’s too close. An outsider can look at it impartially and go do what he has to do.”
Jenkins said he doesn’t dislike Johnstone or any of the 21 members of the force.
“I just think they’re in a kind of rut,” he explained.
Jenkins has been critical of the department’s patrol and community relations procedures, but the department seems none too happy with him, either.
“We don’t have any support from anyone else, except from within,” union representative and police officer John Riegler said. “Morale is at an all-time low.”
Riegler accused the village administration of pushing Solomon and VanHage out the door, along with setting up a police commission that he and other officers feel is illegal.
A lawsuit initiated by the union will likely determine whether it is or isn’t.
In the meantime, Riegler said the department is fully behind Johnstone.
“He was thrown into this position, but he’s going to do a good job with it,” Riegler said.
That praise was echoed by VanHage, who other than expressing satisfaction with his own 34-year career declined to comment further.
The 44-year-old Johnstone, a 23-year veteran of Monticello’s police department, realizes he’s stepping into some amount of turmoil.
“I wasn’t expecting it to happen like this,” he acknowledged, “but I’m the last man standing. I have to step up the guys are looking to me.”
He agreed with Riegler that morale is low, but he insists that has not dampened his or any other officer’s efforts.
“The guys go out every day and give 100 percent,” Johnstone said. “I have a lot of gas left in my tank, and I’m very proud to call myself a Monticello police officer.”
He believes he can lead the department in a highly effective, efficient manner, though he admitted, “I don’t think I’m really the guy they want.”
Still, while Jenkins may seek to hire from outside, LiGreci said no one should assume Johnstone won’t land the permanent post.
“Mr. Johnstone is very much in the mix,” LiGreci stated, “but we have to see who passes the test.”
That will take 6-8 weeks. In the meantime, Johnstone will be paid what Solomon earned: $90,371 a year.