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Police Chief Search Is Hot-Button Topic

Ron Williams

As I listened in on the last Columbus City Council meeting where Police Chief Search Committee Chairman Birney Imes revealed the five candidates that the committee was recommending as finalist, I was thinking (at the time. RW), how nice it was that this process had played out in public…somewhat. Not the vetting of the 25 applicants by the committee, but the revealing of the five recommended final candidates. When Birney mentioned the name of current Interim Chief Selvain McQueen being on the list, that didn’t surprise me (not because he’s well-qualified but because it was expected…by just about everybody following this process.RW)
Now before you go thinking I’m gonna bash McQueen, I’m not. I think Selvain McQueen was put in an extremely difficult position (when named interim. RW) and has done an admirable job in a tough situation. I doubt the Columbus Police Department has anyone on board that could do any better.
At the same time, rumors have been flying for months that McQueen would be made one of the five finalist. So much so that the qualifying rules were changed to even make him eligible. (Yes…I’ve known that fact for some time now. So have a lot of other people in the media and the public. To be honest, I should be ashamed for not reporting it weeks ago. I just wanted the process to play out and hoped for good results for the sake of Columbus and those who are affected by it. Usually, I try to follow the Roger Larsen rule of reporting; If you know it, tell it! RW). That qualifying requirement was that the applicant for chief have a college degree. McQueen doesn’t have one. And, yes…anyone can spin it anyway they want…the requirement was changed to make McQueen eligible for permanent chief…period.
After I did the same thing many others did (after learning the names of the five finalist. RW) and did a Google search on them, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. By now, everyone knows that all five have baggage…three of them more than two others. My first thought was, “Chief McQueen is looking pretty good next to some of these guys”, to which I later wondered if it wasn’t planned that way. But then, logic set in considering I know most of the search committee members (I heard from a good source that at least 16 of the 21 members listed McQueen as a finalist.RW).
You have to remember that most Columbus citizens with pretty good sense about them are thinking, “Wait a minute. You have a national search for a police chief with more than 80 applicants…whittled down to 25…then to 5…and these are the best candidates you can find…nationwide?” Those are reasonable criticisms.
At that same meeting, a sub-committee was appointed (again with Imes as chairperson. RW) The ‘process’ was to continue under the sub-committee. That committee met yesterday at 2:30 at City Hall, right before a special called city council meeting dealing with Municipal Offense Tickets and the police chief search. The sub-committee is made up of Imes, WCBI’s Steve Rogers, Melissa Cook, Bobby Jordan and State Representative Esther Harrison. Columbus Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong and Human Resources Director Pat Mitchell are helping with guidance.
At yesterdays meeting, Armstrong told the mayor and council that all members were present except for Harrison. They discussed a set of questions they can ask the potential candidates. Ward 5 City Councilman Kabir Karriem wanted an update on the chief search.
Ward 3 City Councilman Charlie Box wanted to throw the current list out and start all over again (because of the revelations about baggage among candidates. RW).
“What if we’re not happy with the quality of candidates…I’m not saying all of them, now…but if you believe what you read in the paper, some of them have some pretty serious issues,” said Box. “And I’m of the opinion that we might need to go back to the committee and let’s evaluate some more applications. I’d like to get some more names in the hat, some way or another, before we make a decision.”
Ward 1 City Councilman Gene Taylor said, “Mayor, if you want a motion…i’ll make a motion that we proceed with the search as is…and give the applicants till Monday to turn in their documentation that’s needed.”
Councilman Karriem wanted to know if the council intended to establish some kind of deadline to have the process wrapped up. Mayor Robert Smith said he’d hope it would be done by the middle of December.
Box said that “we’ve got 4 guys in there that are not qualified…if these (newspaper Google search stories) issues are true. Is this gonna be a process of default. We’re gonna have to decide from these five guys…is that what you’re saying?”
Mayor Smith answered (with detection of a hint of anger in his voice. RW). “Let me ask you a question Mr. Box…why are you saying they are disqualified?’
“Because…if what is in the paper is true, they’re disqualified in my mind. A man is accused of having an affair with his subordinate, would you not think he’s disqualified to serve as our chief?, Box asked the mayor.
“Just like I told you the other day, that’s just what you read (in the paper. RW), you need to have factual information” responded Mayor Smith.
“Well, if our committee comes back and finds that to be true, would you consider them to be disqualified? Box said.
“Well, that’s why you have a process of elimination. I would still interview a person, that doesn’t mean I have to vote for them” Mayor Smith came back. “You could probably go back and pick out 15 or 20 more, and you’d find some baggage.”
Ward 6 City Councilman Bill Gavin spoke up, “I guess the problem I have with some of this is, i’ve had several phone calls based on one or two articles that were put in the paper…that somebody had Googled some of these people’s backgrounds…and it seems like some of the candidates would not be a good fit for our city. This is a very, very important position (police chief) for the city…it’s an important decision that this council makes…and I think it’s very dubious that we take into consideration everything and everybody because this person is gonna have a direct, interaction with our city, and our citizens. Mr. Imes had said that one of the ladies on the committee said she didn’t feel safe in Columbus. And I think that we need a police chief that , no matter who that is, comes to our city and makes our citizens feel safe…safe at home, safe to walk the streets. If it takes bringing in more people or some of these people (on the current list) don’t qualify for this, I have np problem with that. But…kinda like Mr. Box, if we have to go outside and get more applicants, to find that person, I think it’s dubious on our part to do so.”
Ward 4 City Councilman Fred Stewart said, “My feeling about it is…we’ve got a sub-committee…I’d like to hear what they come up with.”
David Armstrong then said, “We’re not gonna make recommendations to y’all…we’re just gonna qualify these current candidates.”
Councilman Gavin asked Armstrong, “What if you do a background check on these 5, and only 2 pass the background check?”
“Then that’s what we’ll report to you” Armstrong answered. (It’s obvious that the sub-committee is doing what was asked of them…and that’s all. RW)
Mayor Smith said that any council member could check out the candidates on their own…or call them and ask them questions, “as long as they follow the (committee) guidelines” he said.
The council then voted on Ward 1 Gene Taylor’s motion…to continue with the current candidates and continue to hear recommendations from the sub-committee.

“I wish 3 of them would go ahead and withdraw so we can……. , said Box (the rest of his statement was drowned out by laughter. RW)
The council voted 4 to 2 to approve the motion (Box and Gavin voting against. RW)
I’m with Box and Gavin (to his credit, Kabir Karriem also wanted to proceed with the utmost caution…considering the enormous decision to be made. RW)
This is way too important of a decision to blow it. We MUST do this one right!

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