James Kiernan, center, was appointed chief of the Town of Southampton...

James Kiernan, center, was appointed chief of the Town of Southampton police by the town board on Thursday. Credit: Southampton Town Police

The Southampton Town Board unanimously appointed James Kiernan as chief of the town police department during a special meeting Thursday.

Kiernan, 56, who was first hired as a police officer in 1997 before climbing the ranks to the top of the department, has been serving as the interim chief since Steven Skrynecki died in early October due to myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of cancer.

Kiernan, a resident of Hampton Bays, received a standing ovation from the packed meeting room after the board formally adopted the resolution appointing him as chief.

“There was never a moment of doubt that you were the right person,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said.

The supervisor said Kiernan has had a “distinguished” career. He was previously the department’s captain, serving as second in command under the late chief.

Kiernan will earn a salary of $230,000, effective as of Aug. 1, 2022, according to the resolution.

Speaking in front of a banner that read “Congratulations,” and with fellow officers standing by his side, the new chief thanked the town board for their commitment to public safety and he vowed to provide officers with the training and support they need.

Kiernan also read a statement in Spanish directed to the community’s Latino population telling them that “we are your police officers, too” and urging them to call the department when needed.

Kiernan and Schneiderman both shared memories of Skrynecki, who had been the chief for five years after previously serving a long career with the Nassau County Police Department.

Skrynecki brought an “encyclopedia of police science” to the job, Kiernan said, and was a valuable mentor to him.

“He served this community and gave us all a great police chief and a great friend,” the new chief said.

Kiernan’s tenure has included some controversy. He sued the police department in 2014 and received a settlement of $185,000 and a promotion to detective lieutenant in 2018. Kiernan had alleged in the lawsuit that former police Chief William Wilson Jr. had tried to ruin his reputation by leaking information to the media, Newsday previously reported.

Wilson had brought 32 internal departmental charges against Kiernan for allegedly misleading internal affairs investigators in the case of Officer Eric Sickles. A member of the Street Crimes Unit at the time, Sickles had admitted he was addicted to prescription painkillers. In the suit, Kiernan said he could not afford to pay for a formal departmental hearing. He instead pleaded guilty to four “minor charges,” Newsday previously reported.

The town board acted quickly to fill the vacancy following Skrynecki’s death without a formal search process, a stark contrast to Southampton Village, which has been undergoing a search for a new police chief for about a year.

Lt. Suzanne Hurteau is the interim chief of the village department. Former Chief Thomas Cummings had led the department since 2011 before he left in 2021 while collecting $774,000 for unused time.

Village administrator Charlene Kagel-Betts told Newsday Friday that “there should be an announcement coming in the next few weeks" related to a candidate for the position.

Kiernan had taken the Civil Service test for the village chief position this year and was canvassed for the position. He said he took the test for experience but did not consider taking the job.