Sanford’s police chief search nears completion
by Gary Roberts, Herald Staff
April 04 2011 at 1116 | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As the search for a new police chief heads into its final stages, Sanford City Commissioner Mark McCarty this week renewed his efforts to keep the interim city manager from making the choice.

According to the city charter, the city manager is empowered to hire the police chief in case of a vacancy. As the interim city manager for more than a year, Tom George enjoys final say on who is selected, a decision that could come in the next few weeks.

But McCarty, a frequent critic of George, said the decision should be made by George’s successor as the city simultaneously seeks a new city manager. McCarty contends that a city manager should be brought on board first so the new chief administrative officer for the city is able to make the key appointment of police chief.

It has been five months since a November referendum mandated the city manager must reside within Sanford. At Monday’s city commission meeting, McCarty said because George is not a resident of the city it’s time for him to go.

“It’s our obligation. It’s what we were told to do by the voters,” McCarty said.

George has said he understands the voters’ decision and is willing to return full time to his position of city public works director. George also has expressed that he would prefer to leave his interim position by March 31, but that he would serve at the discretion of the commission until a replacement is found.

No formal action by the city commission is required for George to continue as acting city manager beyond the March 31 deadline.

To prevent George from hiring a new police chief, McCarty proposed delaying the selection of the city’s top law-enforcement officer until a replacement for George is found. To do anything less would go against the will of the people, McCarty said, subjecting himself and others on the commission to “ethics violations.”

But Mayor Jeff Triplett spoke out strongly against postponing the hiring of a new police chief.

“I don’t understand holding back now. We’re at the finish line,” Triplett said.

The mayor also questioned the commissioner’s objections to George making the final decision on the next police chief, saying they were based on nothing more than “conspiracy theories.”

However, Commissioner Velma Williams also cast doubt on the logic of having an outgoing interim city manager select the new police chief. Moreover, she raised suspicions about the transparency of the entire process, although she declined to be more specific.

“I don’t want a good ol’ boy system to creep in,” she said.

In addition, Williams queried why a recent “reorganization” was undertaken within the Sanford Police Department, just prior to a new chief being named.

In an interview after the commission meeting, interim Police Chief Steve Harriett explained that the changes in the department were part of a new neighborhood-policing model that he implemented. The new model centralizes police operations by neighborhood, he said, encouraging traffic, investigation and patrol divisions to work together, with an emphasis on crime prevention.

“The most important thing is to reduce crime,” Harriett said.

Harriett was asked to take the reins of the SPD after former Police Chief Brian Tooley was forced to resign Jan. 3, four weeks before his scheduled retirement.

Harriett, who previously served 18 years with the SPD, is currently chief deputy in the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. When he assumed the interim chief role in Sanford, April 1 was set as the target date for him to return to the sheriff’s office.

Although Williams maintains “ambivalent feelings” about the police chief search, she talked before the commission meeting with George, who assured her the selection process was being handled in an appropriate manner.

Saying the conversation reinforced her trust in the interim city manager, Williams said she would support George’s decision for police chief.

“I just hope we’re going to do the right thing,” she said.

At that point, McCarty’s motion to temporarily halt the police chief search was voted down.

But after listening for almost an hour to the various allegations and innuendos flying around the commission chambers, Commissioner Patty Mahany voiced her opinion on attempts to drag out the police chief search.

“This is all getting out of hand. We’re just beating a dead horse with this,” she said.

Police chief search near end

While commissioners continue to debate the merits of the police chief selection process, it appears to be drawing to a close.

A total of 178 applications for the position were received, with the city’s consulting firm—including input from city commissioners as well as focus groups—narrowing down the choices to 21 candidates who met the criteria.

George, Harriett, the consulting firm and the city’s human resources department then winnowed this list down to nine semifinalists. On Tuesday, the city released the names of the five finalists selected for the position, which will pay an annual salary ranging from $72,782-$116,451.

Beginning next week, a series of meetings is scheduled to present the finalists to a variety of boards, including city commissioners, an ad hoc citizens advisory committee, law-enforcement experts and citizens.

George said the rather public vetting of the candidates is intended to take full advantage of community feedback in the decision-making process, which city commissioners demanded.

After the meet-the-candidate sessions, George will sit down with Harriett to review the finalists one last time. George will then appoint the next Sanford police chief.

“I am getting as much input as possible to make an informed decision,” George said. “I have nothing to gain or lose with my selection. I will make the decision that is best for the city.”

Meet the Candidates

Five finalists were named Tuesday out of the 178 people that applied to become Sanford’s police chief:

Michael Blow, Bowie, Md.
Deputy Chief of Police (retired), Prince George’s County Police Department
Size of Agency: 1,400 sworn officers, 160 civilian members
Command Years: 10
Law Enforcement Career: 24 years

Bill Lee, Geneva
Associate Dean of the Center for Public Safety, Seminole State College
Size of Agency: 20 full-time instructors, 100 part-time
Command Years: 11
Law Enforcement Career: 27 years

Sal Ruggiero, Odessa
Police Major, Tampa
Size of Agency: 1,000 sworn officers, 340 civilian members
Command Years: 5
Law Enforcement Career: 29 years

Robert Musco, Fleming Island
Chief of Police, Green Cove Springs
Size of Agency: 21 sworn officers, 8 civilian members
Command Years: 8
Law Enforcement Career: 31 years

Sonja White, Windermere
Deputy Chief of Police, Orlando
Size of Agency: 900 sworn officers, 100 civilian members
Command Years: 8
Law Enforcement Career: 27 years