Not exactly a pat on the back

When word hit Tuesday morning that Brockville Police Chief John Gardiner is retiring, the first thought that went through my mind was regret. This chief has been remarkably scrupulous about returning reporters’ phone calls, even when the matter is less than pleasant. I respect that.

Then came a weightier thought: How does this news fit into the broader, chaotic canvas that is Brockville’s ongoing civic debate about the future of its police service?

Is it, as some commenters seem to intimate, a victory for Mayor David Henderson, as he sidelines yet another opponent of his Grand Design to replace the badge our city officers wear?

Or is it decidedly less than that?

I would opt for the latter. Online commenters are big on conspiracy theories, and the fact is the chief’s decision to retire will ultimately have little or no effect on city council’s debate on the Ontario Provincial Police costing.

By the time that costing comes around, in September 2014 at the earliest, Gardiner will either be long forgotten as he enjoys his next career move, or one more member of the pantheon of past police chiefs and past police officers lobbying for Citizens Offering Police Support (COPS).

Indeed, any conspirator worth his salt, who genuinely feared the current chief’s influence on the OPP debate (for the sake of argument) would be better off keeping Gardiner where he is, barred from speaking publicly about the whole matter because of his office.

Of greater significance than any relation to the OPP costing itself is the connection between the chief’s pending retirement and the cost-cutting efforts that costing seems to have spurred.

The fact police services board chairman King Yee Jr. and other board members anticipated Gardiner’s retirement in laying out the 2014 police budget is not surprising.

But the spider sense I mentioned in my last post, which whispered to me of an undercurrent of tension in all those closed-door cost-cutting talks, began shouting at Strength Five after I asked Yee for a comment on the police chief’s record of service in his brief tenure here.

“I would say he has met the criteria set out for him,” was the response.

That much, eh?

It was, to be clear, not a slur on the chief’s performance. At least I don’t think so. But nor was it the “job well done,” community-owes-him-a-debt-of-gratitude type of praise one usually sees in the script for this kind of situation.

When the obligatory compliments start to turn backhanded, one begins to wonder just how acrimonious those negotiations have been. Or what other behind-the-scenes stuff we are missing.

Cost-cutting: it will always leave some blood on the floor. And it will always leave reporters wishing they could bug the room.