Hiring process questioned as new chief ready to begin Jan. 10
By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
When former Healdsburg Police Chief Susan Jones was hired in July to run Cotati’s police department on a 6-month interim basis, city officials said she would play a key role in the search for a permanent police chief for the city of 7,500.
But Jones, whose contract ended Wednesday, departed feeling that the city’s top administrator froze her out of major parts of the recruitment and hiring process and at one point misled her in a way that she said briefly tarnished her credibility among her professional peers.
“I was hired to help in the recruitment process and I felt as though I was unable to, and it was frustrating,” said Jones, whom the city paid about $29,000 for six months work.
She said the police department was included to a far lesser degree in the process of recruitment and hiring than promised by City Manager Dianne Thompson, who had said a police officer would sit on an interview panel.
“That was ultimately her decision,” Jones said, “but I was disappointed, because I think it would have been important to have someone sit in just to help validate the process.”
Thompson announced Dec. 23 that a UC Merced Police Commander, Michael Parish, would be the new chief, starting Jan. 10 at a salary of $115,101.
Thompson said including an officer in the process had been part of an earlier “discussion,” but that it had not seemed appropriate to include an officer on an interview panel without also including a supervisor.
“It was not appropriate” to include a supervisor in the process of hiring “their new boss,” so the idea was dropped, Thompson said.
Jones did not question Parish’s qualifications, but said the selection process was illustrative of a management style that has bred a degree of mistrust between the police department and city administrators.
“It’s pretty deep,” she said. “It’s the lack of information, it’s the holding back, and not being forthright with employees, all of this secretive behind-the-scenes thing.”
Mayor Robert Coleman-Senghor said he was “disconcerted” that as an outgoing chief, Jones had discussed an internal process. But he said that she had raised points that were nonetheless a “matter of concern.”
“And I will follow up on it as a councilman,” said Coleman-Senghor, whose mayoral term ends Jan. 12.
Thompson said she appreciated Jones’ contributions but that the process had gone as intended, adding, “I appreciate Susan’s assistance in helping us find the best candidate.”
Jones said there was also a “discrepancy” in the way Thompson, who oversaw the recruitment, described the hiring process Parish went through.
She said Parish did not take part in a second, final stage of candidate interviews that Thompson said he went through.
“He didn’t go through that second panel,” said Jones, who sat on the panel along with Novato’s police chief and city administrators from Santa Rosa and Cloverdale.
She said Parish was one of about 10 candidates who met with a first panel — that she did not sit on — but that he was not one of the two candidates that the panel recommended for further interviews.
Councilman Mark Landman said he was surprised Parish did not meet with the second panel.
“My understanding was that he had,” Landman said. “That was based on my assumption that he had been interviewed, that’s what I was told.”
Thompson on Friday, in an email, acknowledged that Parish — whom she said was “highly ranked” by the first panel — did not take part in the second panel. She said that she “did not intend,” in earlier accounts of the process, to say that he had taken part.
Landman said he was untroubled that part of the process had not taken place.
“I’m very comfortable. I think we’ve got a very good pick for chief. I believe he was credibly vetted,” he said.
As to Jones’ concerns, Landman, referring to the recruitment process, said: “I’d say she did 90 percent of it.”
He said, “She’s very respected, she did a lot of good work for Cotati, if she didn’t feel that she was involved as she should be, that’s unfortunate.”
Jones said that Thompson misled her about the salary range for the new chief, leading to a misunderstanding that torpedoed negotiations with the selection panel’s first choice.
She said that based on what Thompson had told her, she told the candidate, Menlo Park Police Commander, Lacey Burt, that the range was to be $130,000 to $135,000.
“That’s my word going out there, telling candidates, this is what the pay is,” said Jones.
She said when she confronted Thompson about the matter, “She said, ‘I misspoke.’”
Thompson said that the salary was advertised as negotiable, based on qualifications.
After negotiations with Burt failed, Jones said, Thompson “stopped talking to me about the process…at that point she left me out of the whole loop. She kept me in the dark.”
She learned that Parish was hired from a city press release, Jones said.
Thompson said, “Following the second panel interview, I took over the process, as planned, to conduct final interviews and make a final selection. This is our normal process for hiring department heads.”
Editor’s Note: Former Cotati Interim Police Chief Susan Jones worked part time and was paid $29,000 between July and Dec. 29 when her contract with the city ended. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect amount.