Interview Panels Conducted, Police Chief Search Nearing End

So Pas hired Teri Black to help in the search for a new police chief, which is almost done. Photo by Steve Whitmore

Open recruitment closed just before Christmas and two interview panels were conducted last week as the search for the next South Pasadena chief of police moved closer to the finish line.

City officials have not released the number of applicants vying for the coveted position but did acknowledge that the two panels, one  comprised of professional law enforcement and the other comprised of city employees, were held last week.

“Everything is moving ahead,” said John Pope, city spokesman, in a brief interview last Thursday outside City Hall. City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe has said she wanted to have a new police chief in place sometime this month.

“The panel interviews concluded last week,” Pope said in an email to The Review Monday. “We expect a choice to be made shortly, in early February. Following a 30-day background check, we expect to have an announcement of the new chief in early March.”

It’s unknown the number of applicants the city received during the open enrollment period, which lasted from November to midnight on Dec. 23, because officials have not yet released that information.

The city has been in the market for a new police chief since Art Miller resigned nearly six months ago to take a similar position in Peoria, Arizona.

City officials contracted with Teri Black & Company, an 18-year professional recruiter, to spearhead the search and process. Black held two public meetings to gather public input as to the qualities So Pas residents wanted in their top law enforcement officer as well as an online survey. The online survey allowed residents to have their input heard and was able to be accessed at City officials say 81 people participated in the survey that offered three general questions. They were what leadership qualities and characteristics are most important to look for in selecting a new chief, the top three things the new chief needs address in the first year and what should they know about the community. The survey also allowed the survey respondent to offer any additional comments for DeWolfe to consider as well as were they a So Pas resident and their name.

The city also gathered information by way of two public forums as to the qualities required for the chief, which included integrity, judgement, leadership and familiarity with the community.

In fact, the So Pas Public Safety Commission held a special meeting on Nov. 13, 2018 where Black gathered pertinent information regarding those necessary qualities.

At that meeting, where Black filled up seven sheets of paper on a large wall, those additional qualities were leadership, respect for So Pas residents, the ability to represent the city well, the ability to write well, willingness to serve longer than three to five years, commitment to public service, impeccable credentials, trust, and not a change agent.

However, the search process has not been without community concerns.

So Pas City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe opted to exclude a community-based panel as part of the search process. As mentioned, the two panels were a professional panel comprised of sworn law enforcement executives and a city employee panel comprised of South Pasadena city workers.

DeWolfe told the Public Safety Commission at its Dec. 10, 2018, meeting that there wouldn’t be a community-based or public panel because confidentiality could not be guaranteed with such a group.

“Just speaking for myself,” Ellen Daigle, commission chairwoman, said to DeWolfe during that Dec. 10 Public Safety Commission meeting, “I have sat on this committee for six years and have been with two police chiefs and not to have somebody from our commission on the panel is a huge loss because I think as much as anybody who has gone through two police chiefs, seen them…seen what they did, met with them once a month, personally, not having one of us on (the panel) does not make a strong internal panel and certainly I think any of us would be happy to be very confidential. I think that would be a real loss.”

DeWolfe countered by saying as commissioners they’re part of the community and that would make them a community-based or public panel, which she excluded from having because it would limit the candidate pool. Some candidates, DeWolfe said, only would apply for the job if they are assured the process is confidential and a community panel does not assure that confidentiality.

DeWolfe explained the exclusion this way at that Dec. 10 meeting.

“I understand your concern, certainly,” she told the commission. “Unfortunately, it is just industry best-practice for hiring a police chief that there not be a community panel. If we were to go that direction, we would lose a significant number of potential candidates. We really can’t afford to do that. This city does not pay within a pay-band that we will get a large pool to begin with, and I really think it’s not in the best interest of the city to further reduce the pool of applicants that we will have available.”

A recent letter to the editor also questioned DeWolfe’s logic, calling it “flimsy rationale.”

“Public panels are important in establishing community buy-in with the process,” So Pas resident Ron Rosen wrote in his letter to the editor published in the Dec. 21 issue. “The participation of members of the Public Safety Commission, other commissioners, and other citizens with experience and knowledge of the city are very important. I’m very troubled that we have a City Manager who would not only deprive citizens of this opportunity but would offer a flimsy rationale for doing so. Interestingly, one quality listed by the forums was ‘respect for South Pasadena residents.’ The City Manager should take note of that.”

Since that Dec. 10 meeting, Vice-Chair Greg Hall, the only Public Safety Commissioner with law enforcement experience, having retired as a captain from the Los Angeles Police Department with 35 years of service, resigned without comment at the next meeting on Jan. 14 of this year.

However, city spokesman Pope said this week that South Pasadena residents were represented on the panels after all.

“We are not releasing the names and affiliations of the panelists until the new chief is announced,” Pope said. “However, we can share that South Pasadena residents were represented, as two residents were among the panelists.”

Meanwhile, the city and Teri Black screened out candidates and had the panels interview the finalists. City officials have not released the number of finalists but usually in such a search it’s the top two or three candidates that make the final interviews, depending on the pool.

The final hiring decision will be the City Manager’s and DeWolfe is anticipating having a new police chief in place by March.