Mayor Robert Smith and the Columbus City Council heard from Police Chief Search Committee Chairman Birney Imes, Tuesday night, during the Columbus City Council meeting. Imes appeared before the Council by way of the Citizens Input Agenda. The search had been narrowed to 5 from a previous 25, a list that began with 82 applicants.
“Mayor and Council…I wanted to report to you,” Imes began. “We (police search committee) had a meeting Wednesday, a week ago, to vet the candidates and make our selection, both for the top 5 of 25 police chief candidates we were presented with. 19 (of 21 total) members of the committee were there. We met for 2 hours…the mayor was there, Councilman Kabir Karriem was there, Councilman Taylor, Councilman Box was there…Mrs (Pat) Mitchell, David Armstrong. We also had 2 police chiefs…Chief Armstrong of Vicksburg and Chief Carleton of Tupelo were there…and they were really invaluable in their keeping things in perspective.”
“I want to give you the names of the 5 we’ve selected. We each voted for 5. These are the top 5 vote getters. It was suggested we have 3 alternates. One of the top 5 has backed out, so one of the alternates moved to the top 5. The top 5, though, are: Curtis Brame, he’s from North Chicago, Il., Nathan Clark, he’s from Albany, Ga., Sam Lathrop, he’s from Beloit, Wisconson, Selvain McQueen from Columbus, and Robert Spinks of Sequim, Washington. There were 3 alternates, but since one of them moved to the top 5, there’ll be 2 alternates.”
Imes continued, “I want to give you just a few things I thought were highlights…and plus we’ve got, Mrs. Mitchell has assembled all the comments that were made and I just wanted to distribute them to you all…and let you do what you will with them. There were some interest that the group suggested maybe you might want to appoint a sub-committee to do background checks on some of these candidates. The group felt very strongly that we should and would gain valuable perspective by calling former chiefs they (chief candidates) had worked for, newspaper editors, media people in the towns, mayors of the towns they worked for…they just felt it was essential that we do a thorough background check on these people before we even go much further with them.”
“There were just a lot of comments thrown out, there was a lot of good ones and a lot of good back and forth. In no particular order, there were a number of members of the group that felt we should hire from within. They felt that it was good for morale, that we should hire somebody from within the department. Tupelo Chief Tony Carleton was asked about that. He said ‘not necessarily’, he said an in-house person is gonna have people that are his friends, he’s gonna have people that are his enemies…some people will like him and some people won’t. he said it’s not necessarily a good thing.”
“Vicksburg Chief (Walter) Armstrong asked a very interesting question. He said, ‘is the chief going to be able to hire his own assistant (chief)’…and nobody quite new the answer to that, but he said he felt like it was essential and was very important that the chief be able to hire his assistant. He said if the chief is responsible for keeping the city safe, he should be able to have his man in his place when he is out. Both the chief’s stressed the need for community involvement. Chief Armstrong of Vicksburg said they’d had 4 shootings down there and they had made 4 arrest because they had a lot of community involvement. The community felt at one with the police department and had spent a lot of energy interacting with the community, with town meetings, with all sorts of activities that connected the police force with the community.
“Near the end of the meeting, one member of the group – a female – had a real sobering comment. She said, ‘I don’t feel safe in Columbus’. She said, ‘i’ve had a burglar alarm since i’ve lived here and never had it hooked up’. She said, ‘i’ve got it hooked up now.’
Mayor Smith liked the sub-committee idea of doing background checks on the final candidates. So much so that he recommended that be the case. Ward 5 City Councilman Kabir Karriem was skeptical. He wanted to be sure any such sub-committee had some specific direction.
City Attorney Jeff Turnage said that Pat Mitchell (Human Resources Director) had forwarded him an email of a company (for hire) that does professional background checks. The cost to the city would be anywhere from $1750 per applicant down to $1450. Mayor Smith said that could get expensive, but Turnage pointed out that “hiring the wrong chief could be expensive also.”
When further discussion continued about the sub-committee, Karriem said he wouldn’t be able to vote for a sub-committee unless they were given some specific guidelines to go by. Karriem also told Imes, “because as you well know, Mr. Imes…you can’t always believe what you read in the paper.”
The council went on to vote 5-1 in favor of the sub-committee, only Karriem voting against the motion.
Mayor Smith thanked Imes for his willingness to serve as chairman of the search committee, and his continued willingness to serve as the chairman of the sub-committee to handle how to perform background checks on the remaining finalist.0