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Clearwater narrows police chief field to four finalists

CLEARWATER — The four finalists to be Clearwater's next police chief are coming from Orlando, Dallas, Colorado and Massachusetts, although one of them has spent most of his law enforcement career in Clearwater.

Officials unveiled the list Wednesday, a week after they brought nearly a dozen candidates to town for interviews. The city is going to great lengths in its search for a new chief because it hasn't picked one in nearly three decades.

The finalists will return to Clearwater sometime in mid December to mingle with the public at a forum and to sit down with City Council members one-on-one.

Clearwater must pick a successor to Sid Klein, who has been its police chief since 1981. The city intends to have a new chief in place by the time Klein retires in February.

The finalists are:

• Eugenio "Gene" Bernal, a deputy police chief in Orlando, where he's worked since 1981. He's bilingual and is the Orlando department's point man on Hispanic issues. He's been a traffic cop, gang unit sergeant and patrol commander, among other things.

"I've lived in Orlando all my life and am very familiar with the tourism angles of our job," he said Wednesday. "I've done a lot of fishing in Clearwater, and I love that city."

• Tony Holloway, a former Clearwater police captain who left the department in 2007 to become police chief in Somerville, Mass., a city of 77,000 outside Boston. Holloway, 47, started as a Clearwater patrol officer and rose through the ranks here over 22 years. Klein saw potential in him and promoted him to supervisory positions.

• John Jackson, police chief in the small town of Alamosa, Colo., which has 24 officers. He's been chief there since 2007. Before that, he spent the bulk of his career in a suburb of Kansas City.

• Thomas Lawrence, a deputy police chief in Dallas, where he's worked since 1983. He's been a patrol and SWAT team commander and has run Dallas' homeland security and special operations units. He's been a police commander in Dallas' central business district and worked on a homeless assistance center and a video surveillance project.

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne will make the final decision about which one to hire, although the City Council will have its say.

"The average citizen knows what they want in a police chief," Horne said. "Someone who communicates well, who really understands policing, who works well with labor organizations and elected officials, and who can relate to the community. That's not rocket science."

Clearwater's next police chief will earn $95,000 to $120,000 a year to oversee a force of 250 sworn officers and 140 civilian employees, with a $37 million budget.

After Klein announced his impending retirement, Clearwater got 102 applicants for the chief's job. Officials whittled that list to 11 candidates.

Last week, those 11 were interviewed over two days by a panel consisting of Horne, Klein, city human resources director Joe Roseto, two local police union leaders and an official from the Pinellas Police Standards Council.

"I can't disagree with Mr. Horne's decision to pick these four. It's a pretty impressive group of people," said Clearwater police Lt. Dan Slaughter, president of the Fraternal Order of Police unit that represents Clearwater's sergeants and lieutenants.

"We've been fortunate to have the stability of a long-term chief, and we'd like to see that same long-term stability in who they choose," Slaughter said. "At the same time, we're looking for some new ideas."

Next up: Horne and Roseto will visit the finalists' current workplaces to interview their co-workers and government officials. The finalists will also come to Clearwater for a public forum that has yet to be scheduled.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Fast facts

What's next

• City manager Bill Horne and human resources director Joe Roseto will visit each candidate's city and talk with colleagues and government officials.

• The four finalists for Clearwater police chief will meet with the public and individually with the City Council members in mid December.

• A new police chief will be chosen before Sid Klein retires in February.

Clearwater narrows police chief field to four finalists 11/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 9:24pm]

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