ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman has picked a surprise candidate to lead the St. Petersburg Police Department, after eliminating all four known finalists over the weekend.
Kriseman would not say whom he selected but confirmed that the candidate accepted the offer.
So who got the job? The focus Sunday was on Clearwater police Chief Anthony "Tony" Holloway.
Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that Holloway was approached about the St. Petersburg job, but he did not know if a deal was inked.
"I have heard that they have contacted him," Cretekos said. "Chief Holloway is probably one of the finest candidates for the position of police chief in the Tampa Bay area and all of Florida."
Holloway has been on vacation and out of town, and could not be reached. Kriseman and interim Chief Dave DeKay said they would make an announcement Monday.
"I feel confident this individual is what we need to lead our department," Kriseman told the Times. "I was looking for someone I felt could heal, could fix, could bring us back to prominence we had at one time."
Kriseman praised all four other finalists but said none of them was the "complete package."
"Each one of the finalists had strengths," Kriseman said. "It became clear to me none of them fulfilled all the criteria."
Kriseman said Sunday that he was looking for someone who was a strong leader, data driven and had a commitment to community policing.
Holloway, 52, appears to fit that description.
He has deep ties to Pinellas County, having risen through the ranks in the Clearwater department, which is about half the size of St. Petersburg's. He became the city's first black captain before leaving in 2007 to lead the Somerville Police Department in Massachusetts. In 2010, he returned to the Clearwater department as chief. Since then, he has updated the agency's crime-tracking technology and required his officers to have more face-to-face contact with residents under a program called "Park, Walk and Talk."
Law enforcement officials and neighborhood leaders in Clearwater praised Holloway, who they said is especially attuned to residents' issues.
"He's done a great job in Clearwater," Cretekos said. "I only wish he'd stay in Clearwater."
If Kriseman plucks Holloway from Clearwater, he will likely set off a series of dominoes within the Tampa Bay law enforcement community.
Kriseman will also have to appease those in the community stunned — and stung — about the exclusion of popular Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan, as well as the public's reaction to him abandoning a search process he said would be inclusive.
"I think everybody's blind-sided," said council member Karl Nurse. "I didn't see this coming."
Holloway did not apply for the position and his name did not surface as a possibility until the eleventh hour, after it became clear the others weren't picked.
Detective Mark Marland, head of the police union in St. Petersburg, said rank and file officers understood all along that the mayor gets to pick the new chief.
But some feel the mayor has made a "mockery" of the search, he said.
"How transparent is it that we possibly have a chief that didn't apply and no one knew about?" Marland said. "(Kriseman) must have a different definition of transparency."
St. Petersburg has been without a permanent police chief since January, when Chuck Harmon retired after 12 years. His successor will be in charge of 750 employees and a $90 million annual budget.
Kriseman has said that selecting a new police chief would be among the biggest decisions of his first term. The city hired a head-hunting firm for $14,750 to help identify candidates.
Kriseman also invited the community to participate, encouraging people to tell him what they wanted in a chief and to evaluate the candidates. Many did. The mayor's inbox was flooded with emails and letters that nearly filled a 2-inch thick binder.
The majority of the correspondence was about Bevan, who quickly emerged as the favorite. Facebook pages sprung up, and stickers were printed.
Bevan, a 28-year veteran of the department, even garnered support from other heavyweights in the Tampa Bay law enforcement community, including Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee and Bevan's former partner, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor.
A month ago, the four finalists interviewed with Kriseman and were introduced to the public in a series of meet-and-greets.
That led to another rush of support for Bevan.
Kriseman told the Times that he considered looking beyond the four finalists starting two or three weeks ago. He said he appreciated the feedback that came during the months-long public search process, which he called "valuable." Some of the feedback helped him focus on what he wanted. Other feedback made his decision tougher.
"There was a lot of clarity in the process," he said.
Kriseman notified the four named finalists this weekend that he had not selected them.
Jerry Geier, who runs a small department in Arizona, emailed the Times early Sunday and said the St. Petersburg job would not be his. The other three finalists were told Saturday.
"I hope we have found a rock star and someone who can hit the ground running because there are lots of complex issues to address," said council member Amy Foster. "This is the mayor's decision, and we are all anxiously awaiting the final answer, so the city can hopefully start moving forward together."
Times Staff Writer Charlie Frago contributed to this report. Contact Kameel Stanley at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @cornandpotatoes.