Lieutenant Witzenburg To Fill In
Until Replacement Can Be Found
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Police Chief Douglas Brenner, at the helm of Oneonta police for four years, almost to the day, will retire in 30 days, Mayor Gary Herzig said this morning.
Until then, Brenner, 56, will be taking left-over vacation time unused due to the demands of a year of COVID-19. “It’s been a hectic year,” said the mayor. “He felt like it’s time. It’s been a taxing time for all of us.”
The mayor said while he didn’t expect Brenner’s announcement this week, the chief advised him last year that he had become eligible for retirement and intended to do so.
Lt. Chris Witzenburg, a detective appointed as Brenner’s deputy in 2017, will serve as interim chief, according to the mayor. A Civil Service exam for the job will be administered in March, and candidates who pass can then be interviewed and appointed later in the year.
The mayor said he was unaware of any issues that may have precipitated the chief’s decision to retire.
In October, the mayor and chief appeared to have different views over the flying of the “Thin Blue Line” flag on the pole in front of the Public Safety Building, but issued a joint statement saying they agreed on its removal.
Every municipality in the state with a police department were ordered by Governor Cuomo last year to form a commission to review policies and procedures after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, but Herzig said Oneonta’s commission has been “very positive, no criticisms, no negative comments.”
“He just felt this was a good time for him to take a break and let somebody else take over,” said the mayor. From Herzig’s perspective, “this is a chance to take a good department and make it better.”
“There are some big changes coming,” said Brenner, in explaining his decision. “The commissions are going to come up with some fantastic ideas. “I thought someone with more time ahead would be better to implement those changes.”
Brenner, son of former Oneonta Mayor David Brenner, went into law enforcement at age 21 as a correctional officer. He later served with the Cooperstown Police Department before joining the OPD 15 years ago. After seven months as acting chief, he was appointed interim chief on Jan. 2, 2017, after Dennis Nayor (now Ithaca police chief) accepted a job in Albany. Common Council made the appointment permanent on July 7, 2017.
Strictly speaking, Common Council approved putting Brenner on “administrative leave” until his vacation runs out, which would keep him in charge of the department until then. The chief said “transition leave” would be a better way to describe it.