Article Comment 

Birney Imes: The search for a winner


Birney Imes



Reading resumes is a bit like reading tea leaves, I would think. The art of telling fortunes by studying the residue in the bottoms of wine glasses and tea and coffee cups is called tasseography. How it's done, I have no idea. Over the years, though, I've read a lot of resumes. 


Last week I was among 21 Columbians looking at the resumes of 25 people who want to be Columbus' next police chief. 


While we were asked by the mayor not to reveal the specifics of our deliberations, I can share what I've learned about reading tea leaves ... excuse me, resumes. 


A well-written (and mistake free) cover letter is the best way to let a prospective employer know who you are. All the resumes of chief candidates contained pages and pages of seminars they attended, meaningless information since they all have been to scores of them. Only a few had cover letters and few of those were well written (One was really wacky.) 


Provide meaningful references. While I'm sure Aunt Matilda is a fine woman, she's not exactly the best source for an unbiased and informed assessment of your capabilities. Same for your preacher, college advisor and best friend. List those kinds of references and someone's going to think one of two things, neither of them good: Either you're trying to hide something or you simply don't get it. 


I hope those vetting the police chief candidates will call mayors, newspaper editors and police chiefs in towns where they've worked. That's where you're going to find out if the guy is a hero or a bum. In these litigious times, former employers aren't always willing to provide much info. Persistence usually pays off though. 


What is your story and why do you want to come here? Why does an assistant police chief from, say, Connecticut want to come to Mississippi? Do they have family, did they once live in this part of the country or is this just another rung on their career ladder? Someone who has no connection with this part of the country, or has moved often, likely won't be here long either. 


The most effective police chiefs, we learned, are those who can connect with their communities. In doing so, the entire town becomes an extension of its own law enforcement efforts. How active have they been in the community? Church? Civic clubs? Volunteer work? 


There is the opinion among some here that we should hire within the department. Maybe we should, but not without first conducting a broad search. To do otherwise would be like the head coach of the New Orleans Saints saying he's going to find his quarterback in the city of New Orleans, that he's not going to look anywhere else. He'd be laughed out of town. 


Apparently most of the 360 who had responded to our on-line poll by Saturday evening agree. A record of effective leadership or a proven ability to solve crimes should be the most important considerations in the selection of our next police chief, say 57 percent of respondents. Only 5 percent think a local address is the most important requirement for the next chief. 


Tuesday the Mayor and Council will be informed of the selection committee's findings. This is such a critical decision for our city. I hope city officials will keep politics out of it and make this decision in the same way one would running a business (or coaching a football team). It's time we start winning some games.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 10/16/2011 7:09:00 AM:

Oh Birney stop, you are making me sick. "I hope city officials will keep politics out of it". You and your paper run interference from political processes to public perception, to your chums personal wishes, and now you are going to sit here with a straight face and try to present yourself as pious.

You ignored every chance to show the public a listing of candidate qualifications for the Chief job. You are ignoring the study done on the CPD some years ago which stated "no one there" was qualified to be Chief, but yet you'll give a tip of the hat (or is it a forewarning?) to the whole "from within" nonsense.

Butch Howard is retiring soon. Why don't you join him?


Article Comment applicant commented at 10/16/2011 12:01:00 PM:

I am offended but not surprised after reading this column. And this guy served on the search committee? With the problems, not just with crime, this community has, why would someone who seved on the search committee question the motives of qualified applicants? What does it matter why someone would want to come to Columbus? If they come here and serve a few years, but makes the department more effective because of his or her tenure, that is a much better deal than having someone serve in the position as a caretaker who is trying to survive to reach a retirement date. If ties to the community, attendance at church, or how many committees someone serves on is a true measure of leadership, I have been wrong about leadership for a long time. If I was considering this job, I would read these kinds of insular editorials and and be convinced that I should look for something else. The city should be willing to accept the best applicants without looking at them through the eyes of examination and suspicion. This kind of backwards thinking says more about the writer and maybe this city, than it does about the applicants whose motives for applying he suspects.


Article Comment kj commented at 10/16/2011 1:48:00 PM:

I feel it's important to note that we live in a community so ignorant that 29.4% of respondents to the papers poll (that's more than any other single category) think that the most important qualification for police chief is the strength of his religious faith. I think it would be awesome for the city council to take this to heart and hire a strict Orthodox Jewish or Muslim police chief.


Article Comment eddie commented at 10/16/2011 2:06:00 PM:

"A well-written (and mistake free) cover letter is the best way to let a perspective employer know who you are."

Mr. Imes, the word "prospective," not "perspective," should have been used.

The definition of "perspective" can be found here:

The definition of "prospective" can be found here:


Article Comment kat commented at 10/17/2011 8:20:00 AM:

I, along with countless others in this town would have loved to see a list of candidates and their qualifications. I respect the fact that the mayor ask for help from the community, but I don't believe 21 people from diverse backgrounds will ever agree on ANYTHING. Do I think they should "hire from within" - NO!!! There is obviously some problems in the Dept, so new leadership is ESSENTIAL to getting Columbus back on track. While I may not agree with all you say Birney, your comment about moving here from afar is right on. The Chief needs to be from the surrounding areas ( Ms., Al., La., etc) They need to understand our values and they need to WANT to be here for a while. Columbus needs help- the sooner it gets started, the better off the citizens will be. You have to live here a few years to see local conditions in perspective.


Article Comment raider commented at 10/17/2011 8:37:00 AM:

The idea that the people on the search committee should not evaluate the motives of the applicants for a job is absolutely asinine. Any qualified selection board that did not evaluate motives of the perspective police chief or any other city leader, would be derelict in their duties and responsibility to the citizens of Columbus.

I would think that "stability" would be one of the main considerations when hiring a new chief. Consider this...if you have two applicants with roughly the same qualifications, I would think it would be in the best interest of the city to give a higher ranking to the individual with family ties to the area than the applicant that's never been to Columbus, who tends to move every 2 years and whose family is from Utah. That would just be common sense if you asked me.

Personally, I felt that this was a good article. I think it was a good thing for Birney to give some insight into how he evaluated the resumes and made his decisions. I believe that if more time was spent reading the contents of the article instead of looking at "who" wrote it, the contents of the article would be more appreciated.


Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 10/18/2011 4:33:00 AM:

Raider, everyone knows what you can sit down now.


Article Comment raider commented at 10/18/2011 7:47:00 AM:

roscoe, we all know how you arrive at your decisions. You hate Birney so, there is absolutely nothing he can write that you will agree with. You hate the mayor, the police chief and deputy chief and you hate Leroy and everyone else who disagrees with you. Therefore, your small mind will only allow you to disagree with those people. It's makes no difference what the subject is or what those that you hate write, you will always have to disagree with them because you are incapable of assessing a given statement or situation without your personal feelings, toward the writer, dictating your response.

I believe you are smart and intelligent and could bring a lot to online conversations if you would leave your personal hatred, for people in general, out of the conversation.


Article Comment commonsenseincolumbus commented at 10/18/2011 12:58:00 PM:

Thank you, raider. Roscoe's pessimism and hatred for a few people certainly gets in his way of posting constructive comments.


Article Comment thom geiger commented at 10/18/2011 8:03:00 PM:

I have to go with Roscoe on this one. Let's see, has the interim chief ever sued the taxpayers? Has the asst. chief ever sued the taxpayers? Has the mayor ever sued city school taxpayers? I don't know if Leroy has, but he has advised people to sue county taxpayers. That's a big negative in my opinion well worth mentioning when their names come up.
As for being critical of whole administrations, try Google with the search terms of "corrupt administration", "corrupt mayor", "corrupt county government". From Mayor Daley to Huey Long, from Kwame Kilpatrick to John Street, when corruption and incompetence fester in any government, it's not only a citizen's right to object and criticise, it's seen by many to be a responsibility. As for Mr. Imes, on that last item, it's seems the management of the Dispatch has long failed to use the same flogging whip on the likes of Mr. Brooks as it uses on the likes of Harry Sanders.
The US government hires on a points system to factor qualifications such as certifications, training, test results, experience, etc., into a measurable scale. Many large law enforcement agencies also use a similar points system. So, and your preference for a local getting the chief's position was noted while the prior chief was still employed, what point value would you assign to "being local"? As important as having a law enforcement related degree, or graduating from the FBI academy or other advanced LE training? Lower in point value, higher maybe?
Birney and the Dispatch have been asked many times why the citizens can't be given statistics on the WHOLE GROUP of police chief applicants. Birney has no answer, nor do his editorial board. When asked about the role of the press in this selection process, Birney mumbled about names, courtesy and so on, but had no solid answer why non-identifying statistics on qualifications of ALL candidates can't be released to the people who will be most affected by the process. Neither could he answer the question of just what the role of the press is in the selection process
Do you have a sane and rational answer to either or both? Can you get one or both from Mr. Imes? It would be interesting reading.


Article Comment swampdog commented at 10/18/2011 8:37:00 PM:

Thank you for your comment about the distinction between prospective and perspective. I grant you that there is some irony in that misspelling under the circumstances; nevertheless, I think your comment could be interpreted as picking on some miniscule detail as a smokescreen to detract from a message you don't happen to like. I suspect few of us would find that, in the digital age, we are: 1) able to accurately check every single word we type; and 2) entirely mistake-free. In my opinion, you would provide more value to the public by focusing on the issues involved rather than a single misspelling. I do not personally think an error of that magnitude is on the same level with failing to provide a cover letter in a job application. I can't imagine doing so for a job I would really want - were I applying for Chief of Police in ANY city, I cannot conceive of submitting an application without a letter attached. I have reviewed applications myself - out of a stack of applications that needs to be winnowed, those are the first to go - not ones with a single typo.


Article Comment swampdog commented at 10/18/2011 8:54:00 PM:

@roscoe p. coltrain: you and I have interpreted this column entirely differently. In your next post, could you please explain what part of the column you interpret as being pro-CPD and anti-everyone else? I see the following quote: "There is the opinion among some here that we should hire within the department. Maybe we should, but not without first conducting a broad search. To do otherwise would be like the head coach of the New Orleans Saints saying he's going to find his quarterback in the city of New Orleans, that he's not going to look anywhere else. He'd be laughed out of town." In what way is that arguing for a 'hire within'? My sense is that Mr. Imes was, understandably, amazed at the lack of communication skills demonstrated by many applying for a post that he (and I) deem as requiring exactly that. And, far from being knee-jerk skeptical of anyone applying from outside the South, simply suggesting that a cover letter ought to explain what your interest is in applying for the specific position. When I am involved in such a review committee, the lack of explanation immediately makes me suspect that the application is from someone who is just printing and sending an application for any position that they think they MAY qualify for. In the vast majority of such cases, the person is most definitely NOT qualified and my time has just been wasted in even spending the few minutes it takes looking at their application prior to rejecting it. So argue from evidence, that's really all I ask. Instead of lashing out personally at someone who disagrees with you, argue issues (case in point - your response to 'raider' above. Frankly, it is your tendency to express your opinions as some sort of righteous fact that has made it so that I often don't even bother to read what you write; past history indicates that there will be nothing objective contained in your comment, hence nothing to objectively evaluate. Kind of like how I want to avoid reading anything Cameron Triplet signs his name to (the I read them anyway and am insulted by his arrogant tone). I wish that weren't the case, but I suspect it is true for many, not just me.


Article Comment neil5150 commented at 10/18/2011 9:59:00 PM:

Opinions are like as*holes, swampdog. I do not always agree with Roscoe...but he has his points. Pull your head out of your own before you go analyzing Roscoe's.


Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 10/19/2011 4:53:00 AM:

Swamp, to understand what I am telling you one would need to have a history of Birney's behaviors available to him. Birney isn't a fool, and uses his paper to do his, and his friends bidding, but in such a way that it is hard to tell you have had it done to you. Look at the Great School on the Hill propaganda effort, and now, his latest work, on the coverage, or should I say, controlled coverage, of the Chief election process.

To an outsider who doesn't see how things are done here on a day to day basis, comments from the likes of commonsenseincolumbus and raider might seem to carry some weight, but when you come to realize how blinded and manipulated the population here is, and how anyone who attempts to point out corruption is immediately attacked, an intelligent being soon realizes nothing has changed in this area, and noting ever will.

Personally, I don't care if the whole place goes to hell in flames. It deserves nothing less. The town smacks of a sickening Peyton Place type soul which slathers on make-up to keep onlookers from realizing just how old the old hooker really is. It could have been something special at one time, it almost was back in the 60's and 70's, but certain groups of individuals like Birney, Leroy, Smith, and others of that kind came into being and all was lost.

The most amusing part of it all to me is the lack of eyesight in this town. No one thinks for themselves. No one sees. Just mooo and graze Bessie. Mooo and graze.


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