BE chief non-hiring sparks hot debate
The question of “What’s next?” in the police chief hiring process for Blue Earth sparked some hot debate at Monday’s City Council work session.
After deciding two weeks ago to follow the recommendation of a panel and not hire any of the four finalists for the chief’s position, the council debated what to do next.
The council had invited Faribault County Sheriff Mike Gormley to the meeting to participate in the discussion.
Gormley is currently the interim chief of police for the city. He told the council, however, that he did not expect to be in this position this long.
He questioned the council as to where they are going from here.
However, several members of the council had differing ideas of what to do next.
Councilman Glenn Gaylord was in favor of reopening discussions with the sheriff’s office for contracting police coverage through the county.
“We are back to square one and we need to explore our other options,” Gaylord says. “I don’t think we got any hard figures from the county before, as to what the costs would be. They wanted us to make a commitment first. We need those figures.” Councilman John Gartzke immediately disagreed.
“We are not back to square one,” he replied. “We voted to hire a chief and run our own department.”
Gaylord countered that the fact the council turned down all the candidates meant they were back to where they started.
Councilman John Huisman questioned who narrowed the 14 candidates down to the five to be interviewed.
“I did,” City Administrator Kathy Bailey answered. “I ranked them using a state point system that gave extra points for being a veteran and for previous positions of leadership.”
Bailey says the point system eliminates any bias toward any certain applicant.
“The four we interviewed all had previous leadership experience,” she says. “We had five names but one dropped out before being interviewed. We had one finalist but a background check in another community created some questions.”
Huisman questioned having only one person looking over the applications and narrowing the list.
“I’m not sure this is the best practice to follow,” he says. “It puts too much pressure on that one individual. I would like to see this procedure changed.”
Councilman Russ Erichsrud pointed out that two current Blue Earth police officers were among the applicants and he felt they should have been interviewed.
Erichsrud also pointed out that all of the past seven Blue Earth police chiefs were promoted from within the department.
Gartzke questioned if the new job description for a chief had set standards that were too high. Huisman, however, responded that the council needed to hire a good candidate and should not lower any standards.
In the end it was Mayor Rob Hammond Jr. who ended the debate.
“I will recommend to the council at our next meeting what our next step should be,” Hammond told the council.
When asked for a clarification by Huisman, Hammond says the city’s charter gives him the authority to decide on hiring of a police chief.
“The charter says I make the appointment and you (the council) vote it up or down,” he explained. He indicated this meant he could decide the procedure for arriving at the finalist.
Gartzke and Huisman both expressed a desire to have two councilmen involved in the selection process and on the interview panel.
Gartzke also questioned the way the officers are scheduled for work shifts.
“How can you have eight-hour shifts with only four officers?” Gartzke asked Bailey.
She responded that many cities operate eight-hour shifts with four officers and that part-time officers are used to fill out the schedule.
The council questioned Gormley concerning how many officers are needed and how they should be scheduled.
“I think you need to get a chief hired, fill that position, and discuss all this with him,” Gormley answered.