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On the eve of signing a new contract with police officers after a year of negotiations, Orchard Park still does not have a new police chief to replace Robert P. Henning, who announced his retirement in February.

Now the Town Board likely will turn to an independent, neutral out-of-town panel to conduct interviews and make recommendations to the board.

Town Supervisor Dennis J. Mill said all four lieutenants took the Civil Service test for chief. He said Lt. Maryanne Hobar scored highest, followed by Lts. Samuel McCune, Theodore Gura and Robert Ziehm.

The board can appoint any of the top three on the list.

McCune, who has the longest service with the department and has been a lieutenant since 1983, is the senior lieutenant on the force, and some would consider him a shoo-in to succeed Henning.

On the other hand, Lt. Hobar, with four years in that rank, tested better than her male colleagues, some of whom had upward adjustments to their scores when credited with length of police service and time spent in the military.

But recent court cases have found in favor of women police officers who charged sex bias in promotion in Hamburg and the Orleans County Sheriff's Department, and damage awards for sexual harassment have been won from the State Police and Buffalo Police Department.

Mill believes that an independent review board is the safest way to avoid bitterness on the force and possible litigation by someone who is passed over.

"I will suggest that we appoint a neutral board, not affiliated with the town in any way, to conduct the interviews and make a recommendation to us," Mill said.

"I'd suggest the panel have a high-ranking woman in law enforcement, a professor of police science maybe, maybe a labor mediator," he added.

When Henning announced his retirement in February, he said he would stay until his replacement was chosen. He hopes the process will be finished by Jan. 15, when he will have served 30 years as chief.

"We've only had two since the department was founded in 1927," Henning noted. "Bill Martin was named chief back when it was a one-man force, and he served 40 years until he retired and I took over. Today, we have 32 officers and two civilian employees."

The Civil Service test was administered in May, and the town got the results in August so the Town Board could interview the top three candidates.

The town has reached a tentative agreement with the Police Benevolent Association, Mill said Friday, but no settlement figures have been released pending union and Town Board approval.

Police officers have been working without a contract since January. Currently patrol officers start at $36,289 and peak at $43,776 after four years. Lieutenants earn $51,218 annually. The new chief likely will be paid something more than the lieutenants.

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