Petaluma residents looking to have input in the selection of their next police chief have two avenues for making their preferences known: a Town Hall meeting and an online survey.
For the first time, the city has sought comments and suggestions from the local citizenry in picking its top cop.
Those wanting to comment anonymously can log on and register their feelings in an online survey.
Or for those interested in a more personal give-and-take, the city is hosting a Town Hall meeting next week with the recruiting firm hired to evaluate the applicants.
The hiring decision technically is City Manager John Brown’s alone, but recent controversy over the police department’s interim chief and his second-in-command prompted Brown to widen the selection process to include the public.
Wes Herman from the recruiting firm Bob Murray and Associates will conduct the meeting, at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council chambers.
Brown said there will be other community outreach as well, including conversations with city employees and community leaders over the next few weeks.
They will be asked “about their perspectives on ideal characteristics and qualities of the next police chief, the issues with which they should be concerned and the opportunities and challenges facing the city and the Police Department now and in the future,” he said.
Through that process, the recruiting firm will narrow down the list of candidates and forward them to Brown.
One or two members of the public will be asked to participate as panel members for final candidate interviews.
Lt. Danny Fish is the current interim chief, a seat he’s filled for three years. Initially the temporary appointment was to be for a year or slightly more. But the city saved about $600,000 in salary and benefits during that time since Fish’s captain’s job was unfilled.
Controversy arose last year when Fish recommended the the city eliminate the captain’s position held by Dave Sears, Fish’s second-in-command and his only competition in 2009 for the temporary chief’s position. The effort, which was approved by the City Council, resulted in Sears’ demotion to lieutenant with a salary cut of about $35,000.
The move generated a groundswell of support for Sears and stirred up gossip about an extramarital affair Fish acknowledged having with a Police Department employee he has since married. She no longer works in the Police Department.
Brown said the city investigated allegations of dishonesty and possible violations of city policies on personal relationships between co-workers, but found no evidence to prove Fish lied.
Still, some have said a change is needed because of questions about Fish’s integrity.
Because of the lingering discomfort, Brown said he wanted to make the chief selection more transparent.
Councilman Mike Healy said his main concern is finding a chief to guide the department through continuing budget difficulties. He said Fish and Sears are both strong candidates, and there may be others from outside the department.
“I’m not looking for a particular result. I just want the best person to lead the Police Department in these challenging times,” he said. “I’m very concerned that the morale of the department is fragile, based on all the funding challenges we have.”
The chief’s position pays between $150,000 and $180,000 annually to manage 62 sworn officers and about 30 support staffers. Brown said he hopes to have a new chief this summer.
The survey can be found at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/S9WGL6R