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OUR VIEW: Behind the scenes in the search for a police chief

 

Birney Imes

 

Several weeks ago when the mayor asked me to serve on the committee to help with the police chief selection, I asked him to let me think it over. As a newspaper publisher, my first responsibility is to see the public gets a fair, accurate and unvarnished report through every step of the process. Would my involvement compromise our ability to do that or the public's perception of the impartiality of our reporting? 

 

I have high regard for the mayor, and I've been involved with a lot of hiring over the years; maybe I could help, I thought. After discussing it with our news staff, we resolved that my service on the committee would not compromise our coverage. Still, I knew there would be critics. 

 

The mayor surprised me again by asking me to chair the 21-member committee, and for the same reasons as before, I said yes. The group, consisting of media representatives, two out-of-town police chiefs, local pastors, councilmen and appointments by each of the council members, was given the resumes of 25 candidates, told to study them and then come to a meeting prepared to vote for five. I was concerned about the process. While I thought it a good idea to involve a diverse group of citizens in the selection, few of us had experience in hiring a police chief. We met, voted and then discussed our concerns. Chiefs from Vicksburg and Tupelo offered valuable insights, though after the vote.  

 

This should be remembered: We weren't picking the chief; we were only narrowing the field. The mayor and city council will select the chief. 

 

One thing that happened during the call for applications went under reported. Between the first and second job ads, the city changed the education requirement from "college degree required" to "college degree preferred." You can speculate why that was done or argue about the value of a college education, but the obvious upshot of the change was that it kept interim chief Selvain McQueen in the running. McQueen does not have a college degree. 

 

The group agreed that a subcommittee to help the city vet the candidates could be helpful. 

 

At this point, no background checks had been done on any of the candidates, not even a cursory Google search. Should that have been done on the five before the names were made public? Probably so. 

 

Tuesday night, I went before the mayor and council on behalf of the committee. At that point the names and hometowns of the chosen five were made public.  

 

Councilman Bill Gavin made a motion to create a subcommittee, which after some discussion the council approved. 

 

Reporter Devin Golden covered the meeting and Tuesday evening around 7:30 he posted the names and hometowns of the five choices to our website. Overnight the story got 1,200 hits, for us an extraordinary large number in that amount of time. By morning readers had Googled the candidates and discovered that some had questionable backgrounds. In Wednesday's edition, we had the report of the council meeting with my presentation and an additional story by Devin, which mirrored the readers' findings. 

 

At a news budget meeting after that day's paper went to press we decided to do profiles of each of the candidates to introduce them to readers and give the candidates a opportunity to speak about their pasts. The second of that five-part series runs today. 

 

While I participated in the planning of the stories, I have not tried to influence reporting. We don't have a favorite at this point. When and if we do, we will express our opinion in an editorial or a column, something we're not shy about doing. Readers will have ample opportunity to voice their opinions, as well. 

 

There is a local faction that has from the beginning favored giving Selvain McQueen the permanent job; chief among them is Councilman Kabir Kareem. Tupelo chief Tony Carleton told the committee that hiring from within wasn't necessarily a wise thing to do. Lt. McQueen may be the best man for the job, but most of the people I've spoken with think it would be foolish not to make every effort to find the most capable person available regardless of where he's from. 

 

Many have criticized the council and a process that has produced candidates with such dubious backgrounds. To those critics, I would say, hold your fire. This is a process. To the city's credit, the search is being conducted in the open. It's messy and sometimes uncomfortable. The end result is the important thing. 

 

-- Birney Imes

 

Birney Imes III is the Editor and Publisher of The Dispatch.

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment sutter commented at 10/25/2011 5:09:00 PM:

There has been a lot of sincere interest in the parties taking part in this ad hoc selection process. They should be congratulated! ask yourself you try it! I would think at this point it would be foolish to hire someone on the short list if there are in any way shape or form misgivings... Mr. McQueen is very capable (i would think) of managing the duties of the office until a later date or a suitable candidate comes foward or in fact Officer McQueen is hired! i would ask have we provided the proper advertising for the position! from what i have seen the finalist (EXcluding mr. mcqueen) have good reason to hit the road from wherever they live (that is puzzling in itself (chicago / washington state) and start over maybe at the city of columbus' expense if it turns into a bust! As a loyal Dispatch print and on-line reader i would like to say again that we all should take our hats off to the unselfish time and energy that the committee has given to this daunting task!With the growth of columbus (possum town)we need the right man or woman for the job! don't rush the issue! tom brown

 

Article Comment kat commented at 10/25/2011 7:23:00 PM:

Mr. Imes, I know you were not looking for praise when you wrote this Editorial- but I would like to say "Thank You" for what you do for Columbus. I don't know you personally, nor do I agree with everything you print or believe- but I do think you truly have the best interest of our city at heart. To the people who served on this committee with you, I also say "Thank You" for giving your time to the task. I hope the process continues to be transparent and I too hope there is NOT a rush to hire just to fill the position. Columbus deserves the best we can find- regardless of how long the process takes.

 

Article Comment raider commented at 10/25/2011 9:15:00 PM:

I agree with the comments of sutter and kat above. We should be thankful for the time and effort of the committee. It's not easy to find people that is willing to serve on committees these days because the people know that there seems to be no upside to serving, only a downside.

As far as the quality of the candidates...we may want the absolute best to apply for the job but we are not going to get "the best" when we offer pay that is far below "the best". For the pay that is being offered, we probably have the best candidates that we are going to get.

Let's take a look at reality...if I were a person looking for a chief's job, had never been to Columbus, had no family here...please tell me what is here that would entice me to come to Columbus for the pay that's being offered? I would be surprised if Brame and Clark is not already making more money in the jobs they have now. Spinks was making more at a PD half the size of Columbus. Brame is looking for a quieter place to raise his kids. I wouldn't be surprised if he has resumes pending at other small towns too that may pay better. Clark is probably in a position where the current chief is not going anywhere so the only chance he has of being chief is going somewhere else.

I think the bottom line is this, we wont know whether we have a good chief until we hire one and give them a chance. However, we need to be careful of those folks who is only looking for a stepping stone. Otherwise, we will have to go through this process again in the very near future.

 

Article Comment readaboutit commented at 10/25/2011 10:18:00 PM:

Once again , the mayor is trying to manipulate the situation. He has gotten away with it before. All of a sudden for the future chief...they "prefer" a college degree...why don't they just take McQueen's qualifications and make that the guidelines for others to follow............pulleezzee!!!!

 

Article Comment maddawg commented at 10/25/2011 11:14:00 PM:

Let's ask the Chi-Quaves, NoRoadsOut, ManRules and the like, just who it is that they don't like, and hire them.....

 

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 10/26/2011 6:13:00 AM:

I see we have the Imes Mutual Admiration Society all present and accounted for here. Nice.

Ya'll pay close attention to the magicians, watch their hands as they are fixing to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

Raider, we should also be careful of people who holler "scrimination" every time their life doesn't go how they think it should.

Ya'll still aren't fooling anyone.

 

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