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Shores gets new storm-tested public safety chief

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of March 5, 2015)
Photo: Rich Rosell, new Shores’ safety chief

When applications flood in from the frozen north for top government jobs like the Indian River Shores Public Safety Director position, those lucky folks who have never lived through a major hurricane can get weeded out quickly.

But Rich Rosell, who was unveiled as the Shores’ new public safety chief, comes battle-tested with all the hurricane experience anyone would ever want to see:  up-close encounters with two doozies named Irene and Sandy.

Hurricane Irene hit the Atlantic coast in August 2011 when Rosell was in charge of public safety for Springfield, New Jersey, and then Sandy walloped the Jersey Shore after chewing up Florida’s beaches in October 2012.

Those two experiences taught the career law enforcement officer that you can never be too prepared.

Springfield was far enough inland that residents didn’t get the wind or the storm surge from the Category 3 Irene, but then a creek overflowed. “A very small stream turned into a bay, soaking a neighborhood. Some homes were under seven feet of water. That shocked the hell out of us,” Rosell said.

Thirteen months later, Rosell had moved on to Dover, New Jersey, where he headed up public safety when Sandy made landfall as a powerful Category 1 cyclone near Atlantic City at high tide and barreled through New Jersey with tropical storm force winds extending nearly 500 miles from the center.

“We thought we were ready,” Rosell said, but despite all their training and preparations, “We weren’t ready. I thought I knew a lot going into it, but after two serious hurricanes, I found out how much I didn’t know.”

Aiming to glean something positive out of the destruction, Rosell, working as an adjunct college instructor in the area of homeland security and disaster management, chaired a “lessons learned” hurricane symposium in June 2013 for New Jersey state and local emergency managers to share ideas about what worked and what didn’t, and more importantly, to have better tools and practices in place for the next storm.

“It’s bad when something like that happens, but if you have to make the best of it in the aftermath, you work on making improvements in all the things we could do better,” Rosell said. “There’s no one on earth that can tell you they’ve got it all figured out, but I’m prepared as I can be.”

After hitting the ground running here on March 20, Rosell said one of his first priorities will be getting to know all the local players on the local emergency management front so he’s equipped to protect life and property in the Shores come hurricane season. He knows that disasters can be inter-jurisdictional nightmares sometimes, but intends on building the relationships necessary to position the Shores well in the event of an emergency.

During Irene and Sandy, “We learned how to play well in the sandbox with everybody,” Rosell said.

Rosell, 55, and his wife, Darlene, have put an offer in on a home and are packing to move. Rosell’s children, ages 21 and 23, are both in college now, but he said they spent a good deal of time in Florida as kids, between trips to Walt Disney World and visits with relatives scattered about the Sunshine State. Rosell even has some cousins who spend winters in Vero Beach and are transitioning to become permanent residents.

Moving to Florida has been a goal of Rosell for the past few years, as evidenced by the fact that he went through a vetting process, a week’s on-site training and written examination to obtain his Florida police certification.

“That was the plan for my wife and I – with or without a job, but preferably with a job,” Rosell said.

 “When my wife and I came down for my interview and physical, it was one degree when we got on the plane in Atlantic City. I think it was about 70 degrees when we got off the plane in Orlando,” he said.

When asked if taking over public safety for the town recently ranked the “safest city in Florida” puts the pressure on, Rosell said unequivocally, “It’s gonna stay that way.”

Town Manager Robbie Stabe said Rosell has “good interpersonal skills and will be an asset to the town.”

Rosell is walking into an agency that’s been rocked in past months by a federal sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former female officer who named numerous co-workers and supervisors in her complaint. Rosell said he’s accustomed to taking the helm at less-than-optimal points in a department’s history and that he’s got the experience to meet the challenge.

Rosell said he relies upon all of his training and management experience, but especially on his two tours as an inspector with the Internal Affairs division of the New Jersey State Police to get to the bottom of things.

Despite the embarrassing allegations in the pending litigation, Rosell said he plans to give each member of the department a “clean slate” and assess strengths and weaknesses himself. “I can get along with anybody,” he said.

Rosell comes to the Shores with 27 years on the job with the New Jersey State Police, plus experience managing two municipal public safety departments. In Springfield he managed a 90-plus member force of police, fire and paramedic personnel and a $7 million budget, and in Dover, where Rosell, who recently resigned there, had 30 police and 70 firefighters and medics in his charge. He was hired on there in 2012 for $90,000 per year to replace an ousted director.

His new position with the Shores will pay him just under $100,000 per year including $2,000 to cover relocation expenses. Rosell has made a five-year commitment to the town. However, he will serve at-will and does not have a contract with the town. Continuity in this key leadership role would be something the town has not had recently. The Shores’ Public Safety Department has had four leaders in the past three years, beginning with the retirement of Chief Bill Schaumann as part of a retirement buyout program in mid-2012.

Stabe took over the top spot, but then moved over to replace Town Manager Richard Jefferson in early 2013. Lt. Mike Jacobs then assumed the interim post, but then retired last fall. Lt. Tony Dudley then took over as interim public safety director.

Expected to bring “a fresh perspective and new ideas” to the Town, Rosell holds two master’s degrees, one in homeland defense and security from the Naval Postgraduate School and another in human resources training and development from Seton Hall University. Rosell is a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigations National Academy, a Certified Advanced Army Antiterrorism Officer, as well as being a former U.S. Marine Corps reservist.

Councilman Dick Haverland said, “Congratulations to Robbie, this guy sounds like a terrific hire,” adding that the search was conducted in a very cost-efficient and expeditious manner.

Stabe thanked Dudley for stepping up to keep the department running smoothly after the retirement of Mike Jacobs last fall.

Among the achievements during Dudley’s tenure as interim director, Stabe said, was the department’s second re-accreditation by the State of Florida. Stabe said the Town is one of only 181 law enforcement agencies in Florida to be accredited, out of more than 500 agencies.

“We were completely re-accredited, with no issues,” Stabe said.