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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Past Hiring Process for Police Chief Vastly Different

In lieu of the very secretive search for a new Davis police chief--one that has been defended based on the need for confidentiality and also standard operating procedures--it was very interesting to do some research into the last chief hiring process in mid-2003 by then City Manager Jim Antonen and discover that the process itself was vastly different and much more open than this secret process we have seen play out over the last month.

On May 4, 2003, there was an article in the Davis Enterprise where all six candidates for the Davis Police Chief had come to Davis and gotten a chance to meet the community.

Each of the six were identified by name to reporter Lauren Keene as well as the public. And their backgrounds were briefly profiled in the newspaper--something that has not occurred this time.

There was a public opportunity to meet and mingle with both city officials and other police employees. There were also numerous functions where the public got to meet and talk with the candidates for the police chief position.

This process took roughly two months, as the City Manager made the final decision by July 10, 2003 to hire Jim Hyde. The names of all six finalists were released to the public a full two months before a final decision was made

That is not to suggest that the past process was perfect. There were public suggestions that there needed to be a broad and diverse citizen group that would help advise the City Manager on the selection of a new police chief. In fact, the concerns raised were rather prophetic and it seems possible that much of the drama of the past year could have been avoided with a more frank discussion from the onset. And yet that did not happen in 2003 and indeed we have moved even further from this ideal in 2007.

There were issues raised in public in 2003 that became the focal point of the problems that led to the exit of Chief Jim Hyde. These problems have not been addressed to this day or in this hiring process. How can we expect to not have a repeat of recent history? And now the public has no means to access the new candidate for police chief to see how they view some of these very crucial issues.

The process has moved backwards since 2003. The public has been less rather than more involved in it. And now the City Manager could very well hire a man to be police chief, who people in this community know absolutely nothing about.

Talking with people involved with the past process, I was very interested to find out that there was in fact a number of public meet and greets, where not only the Human Relations Commission, but members of the public got a chance to meet some of the candidates prior to the hire of Hyde. And we are not talking about a meet and greet for a mere 30 minutes.

The process has been very different this time. In January, there was an announcement in the paper that there were seven candidates. This time, none of those candidates were named by City Manager Bill Emlen. There were assurances made that the public would get a chance to meet some of the finalists. And tonight at the City Council Meeting, just prior to it at 6 pm, there will be a half-hour meet and greet for the public. A very limited time frame and very little opportunity for the public to meet and get to know the only realistic candidate at this point.

The explanations for the secrecy were based on process and precedent, but that appears to be untrue based on the examination of the historical record, at least in the recent past. While we acknowledged that City Manager Bill Emlen has a very difficult task at hand and a difficult decision to make, any error should have been on the side of too much public openness rather than not enough. There have been suggestions made about dissatisfaction with the caliber of candidates and even the suggestion that this hire may not occur and that the process would restart. We hope that Mr. Emlen will choose a more public process next time through and we believe that the will lead to a better outcome and stronger support from this community.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting