Fresh from a contentious conclusion to its search for a new fire chief, city officials — already months behind schedule, once again — are pushing forward in their search for a new permanent police chief to succeed three-year interim chief Mike Lane, who was to step down at the end of May.
And it's clear from the comments of Ward 1 Councilor Paul McGeary, the council's representative on the Police Chief Search Committee, that officials have learned some important lessons regarding the search ordinance. Chief among those is the need to revise the requirement for leadership experience — mandating at least three years as a "deputy chief or higher" for a new fire chief, and three years of experience as a "lieutenant or higher" for the police chief's post.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, other city officials and the city's beleaguered fire chief search consultant, Municipal Resources Inc., spent two weeks talking their way around how newly-hired Fire Chief Eric Smith was indeed qualified despite having less than a full year as "deputy chief" in Westland, Mich., saying they believed his time as a battalion chief and even acting battalion leader represented equivalent experience. Yet, there's no allowance for "equivalent experience" in the current ordinance. And McGeary and other councilors know that's among the provisions that have to be changed.
Even before those likely changes, however, the city's search committee and police chief search consultant BadqeQuest of Yarmouth — a welcome departure from MRI — are going forward, having already trimmed the more than 40 initial applicants into fewer than half that.
That, frankly, sounds like another recipe for another dose of trouble,
McGeary said he and the search panel are aware that, if the "equivalent experience" is edited into the ordinance, they may have to revisit a few resumes of candidates who may have been wrongly eliminated. Most of the applicants who didn't make the cut didn't come close to meeting the needed qualifications, McGeary said.
But inserting language that allows "equivalent experience" doesn't simply affect candidates who have already applied for the police chief's job. During the dispute over Smith's fire chief qualifications, Ward 2 Councilor Melissa Cox rightfully noted that the rigid wording of the city's current ordinances may well have discouraged some candidates from applying if they thought the city truly required three years' deputy experience — and that perhaps their roles as battalion chiefs or other leadership title roles didn't fit the bill.
Police departments, like fire departments, have different structures around the state and around the country, and that indeed means different titles can carry different leadership roles, as officials cited in Smith's case. And that's an important consideration in searches that are open to both in-house and outside applicants — as approved by city voters, in this case.
If the city is going to open the door to police chief candidates who can show "equivalent experience" to three years as a "lieutenant or higher," Gloucester owes it to those candidates to advertise the job and its qualifications appropriately.
Blindly moving forward with this search, and "tweaking" the ordinance on the fly, as McGeary suggests, is just looking for more questions regarding the search's credibility and fairness. That's something Gloucester can ill afford.
The search committee and BadgeQuest alike should freeze the search process where it is until the council can make the needed ordinance changes. Then, the city should advertise the position again with the revised qualifications for perhaps 30 days before again moving forward.
Otherwise, the same storm clouds that enveloped the confirmation of new Fire Chief Eric Smith will engulf this search and appointment as well. That's not fair — to the chief, to the department, or to Gloucester's residents.