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Birney Imes: Time to choose


Birney Imes



It would be safe to say Mayor Robert Smith and the city council this weekend are thinking long and hard about who they want as the next police chief of Columbus. 


And it is also safe to say, the choice is between a hometown favorite (in some circles) and a 30-year law enforcement veteran who has spent his working life in the Pacific Northwest. 


In almost every way the two men couldn't be more different. 


One is a fluid and articulate communicator who has a lot to say (and, as the council will tell you, is perfectly willing to say it); the other speaks in staccato sentences and gives you the impression he's only doing that because it's required of him, that he has somewhere more important he needs to be. 


This is the entirety of Selvain McQueen's opening statement for his interview Thursday evening: 


"I'm the individual that's been walking the streets of the city of Columbus for the past 24 years, knocking on doors. You know me; I know you and that's it." 


Contrast that with Bob Spinks opening, who after thanking the mayor and council for the opportunity to interview and the live and TV audience for their interest, began: 


"Really, my opening remarks are simple. I have 30 years of public service. In that time I have worked in about every position a police officer could work in. ... I took a different path than some people do. Some people will stay in one department their entire career. They are kinda like the last guy standing. They get to be chief three years, they retire. That's pretty traditional. 


"Mine's a little different. I took opportunities and I took certain amount of risk with my career. I was willing to go to other places and share my experiences as well as learn how to do things different ways in different venues. I went back to college and got my degrees in organizational management and criminal justice. ... I got bit by the bug to be a leader; not a manager, but a leader. And so that has brought me here to be involved in a hiring process, which as you all of you know, is a two-way process. You're evaluating me just as I am evaluating you and your community." 


Of the three candidates interviewing for the job, only one stayed around afterward to chat with the crowd. Bet you can guess which. 


Friday it was not difficult to have a sidewalk discussion about the interviews (which can be heard at One person who attended the interviews called Spinks a snake oil salesman. While acknowledging McQueen's lack of management experience, he said the 24-year veteran of the CPD would be his choice. 


When asked what is his greatest weakness McQueen told the council: "My weakness is I don't know when to go home. I stay out there and I stay out there." 


Oddly enough, an official I bumped into Friday afternoon volunteered this about McQueen, "Seems like every time I call him he's at home. ... I don't know what to make of that." 


Others, however, have high praise for McQueen's on-the-job attentiveness. Last week we printed a letter praising McQueen from the head of a newly formed neighborhood watch. We've received calls from crime victims complimenting the interim chief. 


As for Spinks, he has spent most of his life in a part of the world where there is little racial diversity, and, though he has been chief twice, it's been in towns of about 6,000 (Sequim, Wash., and Milton-Freewater, Ore.). 


The cultural and demographic differences between the deep South and Washington's Olympic Peninsula are vast. 


Obviously the affable Spinks is highly intelligent -- his answers were full of specifics and examples, whereas the other candidates responded with generalities. Could he adapt to the South and command the respect of the force? Could he win over the community? 


Clearly McQueen is energetic; clearly he knows the community. But does he have the wherewithal to reorganize the department into the effective crime fighting unit the city desperately needs? 


Some argue we should stay local, that our out-of-town chiefs have not turned out so good. The past two developed rock-star complexes (for which we in the media were largely responsible). While neither J.D. Sanders nor Joe St. John went out on a high note, they both made improvements. An out-of-town chief brings with him new ideas. A hometown chief offers the security of being a known quantity. 


It's been a long, arduous and frustrating journey. Monday night, the council is expected to make a decision. In the meantime go to our web site and listen to the interviews. Then call your councilman and tell him what you think.


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


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