Keeping up with the Joneses

“We realized the selection of the police chief should involve all segments of our community to the extent possible.”

— Salisbury City Manager David Treme

The job of police chief can be a lightning rod for controversy; APD Chief Will Annarino has seen his share in recent years. And with Annarino due to retire at the end of this month, Asheville City Manager Jim Westbrook must now try to find a replacement who can win the confidence of the city’s increasingly diverse population.

Faced with the same challenge, other city managers in the Carolinas have taken a variety of approaches. Here’s what a search of press reports covering the last four years turned up.

“Wisdom in the multitude”

When Salisbury, N.C., needed a new police chief in 1999, city officials asked the community what kind of person they wanted for the job.

”There is wisdom in the multitude of counsel,” City Manager David Treme told the Salisbury Post. “We realized the selection of the police chief should involve all segments of our community to the extent possible. … It’s my decision to pick one, but certainly [the Salisbury City Council] suggested to open it up as much as possible to the community.”

Salisbury officials began by seeking input via newspaper questionnaires, a public hearing and individual citizen interviews. They also consulted the Police Executive Research Forum, one of several nonprofit organizations that advise cities on such matters.

With this help, staff whittled the list of 118 applicants down to five finalists, who then went through a two-day series of panel presentations and interviews. Nearly 40 people served on the four panels — titled law enforcement, community leaders, business leaders and management team — including city residents, police chiefs from other cities, city department heads and local business people. Treme then interviewed each of the candidates himself before making a final decision.

How to succeed in Charlotte

In Charlotte, community activists — including the vice chair of the Citizens Review Board, which oversees the Police Department — presented City Council and the city manager with a list of qualities they felt a new chief would need in order to succeed in the racially and economically diverse city, torn by strife between police and its African-American community over much of the past decade.

“All three finalists met criteria for dealing with diversity issues on the force and in the community, including hiring and retention of minority officers and demonstrating effectiveness in working with people of different ethnic backgrounds,” reported The Charlotte Post, which serves the city’s African-American community.

A tale of two cities

“The Durham way,” wrote N.C. Press Association General Counsel Hugh Stevens in the group’s September 2002 newsletter, “involves releasing the names of all candidates who are under serious consideration, honing the list to three or four finalists, bringing them to town for public tours and interviews, inviting comment from the local citizenry, including the entire council in the process, and giving local reporters the opportunity to visit the finalists’ home cities and write detailed profiles of them.”

This open process — which Durhamites also used recently in choosing a new city manager — saved the city from embarrassment when reporters from The News & Observer of Raleigh uncovered one finalist’s record of spousal abuse, which had been overlooked by both the city manager and the for-profit executive-search firm the city had hired.

By contrast, in neighboring Raleigh, wrote Stevens, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment and communications law, “City officials cloaked the process in secrecy and played silly cat-and-mouse games with the press and public.”

Community policing

Greensboro, N.C., is another city whose police force had been dogged by high-profile accusations of brutality and racism. Its city manager held a series of prelimary public meetings around town to gather input on hiring a new chief. Then, “Each finalist was interviewed by two community panels, one of which assessed the candidates’ skills and knowledge in law enforcement, and another which evaluated their understanding of and commitment to community policing and good community relations,” states a city press release.

Hiring by committee

Rock Hill, S.C., just across the state line from Charlotte, used a 10-member committee of city residents and evaluators from the International Association of Chiefs of Police to review applications and make recommendations.

Ask the police

Finally, right next door to Asheville, Fletcher is now looking to hire its second police chief. In that small town, however, City Manager Craig Honeycutt is doing most of the legwork himself. Residents won’t get a chance to interview any of the 17 candidates who’ve made the city manager’s first cut, Honeycutt told this reporter.

“I’m willing to accept any input about [what kind of chief] they’re looking for, but the process is pretty much set,” said Honeycutt.

And though he said he’s received three or four calls from local folks suggesting individuals to hire (or not to hire), Honeycutt reported that most of his input so far has come from the Police Department. A panel consisting of the mayor, a Fletcher resident with a law-enforcement background, and a Fletcher police officer whose name will be drawn from a hat will help Honeycutt decide whom to hire.

Still working on it

Meanwhile, back in Asheville, Mayor Charles Worley reports that while the public will have a chance to weigh in on the candidates, the city manager will have the final say.

Westbrook told Xpress that he hasn’t finished outlining a procedure for choosing Asheville’s new police chief.

“I have nothing to tell you,” said Westbrook. “I’m still working on it.”

The mayor confirmed that there are no rules on the books that dictate how a chief is to be chosen. “Ultimately, it is the city manager’s responsibility,” said Worley.

He speculated that Westbrook would begin the process by bringing in a panel of people not only from outside the police force but possibly from outside the city to help trim the list of candidates. For example, said Worley, “There might be a police chief from another city that [the city manager] respects.”

Westbrook, said the mayor, has “expressed intention” to involve the public in some way once the field of applicants is reduced to a handful of finalists, but Worley said he wasn’t yet aware what form that public input would take.

And though Annarino retires in a couple of weeks, choosing a replacement could take six months. In the meantime, Westbrook has appointed Deputy Police Chief Ross Robinson as interim chief. Robinson was chosen in part, said the mayor, because he “has not expressed an interest in applying for the position.”

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