ST. PETERSBURG — A day after Mayor Rick Kriseman interviewed his top four candidates for police chief last month and introduced them to the community in a public meet-and-greet, he got on a plane to Dallas.
He was unsettled, unconvinced that any was the right fit.
At a conference that weekend, Kriseman sought advice from other mayors around the country. They all had the same message: Don't settle. Don't be afraid to scrap the list.
Over the next several days, Kriseman put out feelers for chiefs he might want to recruit. One, it turned out, was close to home: Clearwater Police Chief Anthony "Tony" Holloway.
Kriseman cold called him, and liked him immediately. Two weeks later, they met at a diner outside both their cities.
Kriseman said he asked Holloway the same questions he'd asked the others. This time, he liked everything he heard.
"I came away very impressed and convinced this was the guy," Kriseman told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday, a few hours after officially announcing Holloway as the new chief. "The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was."
Praise poured in on Monday for Holloway, 52, a widely respected figure in Pinellas law enforcement circles and a beloved chief in Clearwater.
"My pledge to this community is to establish a good working relationship with citizens and community leaders from south St. Pete to Tyrone to Gandy, and everywhere in between," Holloway said Monday in a statement. "I'm going to park my car, walk the neighborhoods, and talk to you. My pledge to the policing professionals of this great department is that I will meet and talk to every single one of you, as well. I am looking forward to working with the outstanding men and women of the St. Petersburg Police Department."
Kriseman, who plans an 11 a.m. news conference Tuesday at police headquarters, said Holloway is what the department needs, "someone familiar with us, but not of us."
But the mayor's decision to eliminate the list of four finalists — including popular internal candidate assistant chief Melanie Bevan — and abandon his own search process, sent shock waves through the community.
City Council Chairman Bill Dudley said people are "baffled" by the turn of events.
"We went through this whole scenario of interviewing people from all over the country, and where was this? It's like writing a mystery novel and you think you got the ending all figured out and you're hit with a curve," he said. "It's just kind of a weird way to get here. I told the mayor that's something he's going to have to explain to people."
Council member Amy Foster said she's heard from people who feel disenfranchised.
"The constituents I've spoken to all acknowledge how important this decision is to get right but many have expressed dismay with the lengthy process and cost to taxpayers ... to go a different way all together in the end," she said. "Some folks are concerned about future projects where public input has been promised, like the Pier process."
St. Petersburg has been without a permanent police chief since January, when Chuck Harmon retired after 12 years.
From the beginning, Kriseman said he wanted the search to be inclusive. He encouraged the public to tell him what they wanted in a new chief and give their opinions of the four finalists. He got so many emails they nearly filled a 2-inch thick binder.
The city spent $14,750 on a search firm and another $3,240 for travel and hotel stays for the finalists.
On Monday, Kriseman said the process worked and that ultimately, the final decision was his.
"I knew if I didn't hire Melanie I was going to catch flak. If I hired Melanie I was going to catch flak. If I went outside I was going to catch flak," he said. "In this job you're never going to make people happy. If you're concerned about that, you're never going to make a decision."
Many people were stunned, and stung, when Bevan, a 28-year veteran, was cut. Bevan had emerged as a favorite among many union officials, agency employees, neighborhood leaders and residents.
Holloway's name first surfaced over the weekend after it became clear Kriseman was eliminating the known candidates.
Detective Mark Marland, head of the police union, told the Times on Sunday that some officers felt like Kriseman had made a mockery of his own claims about inclusiveness and transparency.
Nonetheless, Marland congratulated Holloway on Monday.
"I have been hearing good things about him and hope that continues into St. Pete," Marland said. "The troops are keeping an open mind and hoping for the best. The most important issue at hand is building morale back up and moving the department back to the forefront of policing where it was 25 years ago."
Officials in Clearwater now must deal with the sudden loss of a popular chief as well as find a replacement.
Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said he was dismayed that Kriseman didn't give him a courtesy call about his hire.
"Kriseman and I go back a lot of years, and ... I'm disappointed he would not have reached out," he said Sunday. The two men later talked Monday.
Holloway 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." (Read more about Holloway's rise here. )
Holloway, who is married to Clearwater attorney Andra Dreyfus, makes $125,595 in Clearwater. He will make $155,000 in his new St. Petersburg job.
Dudley said while he still doesn't understand the path the mayor took to his decision, he hopes it won't negatively impact Holloway's ability to lead.
"If he succeeds as chief, it'll be just fine," said council member Karl Nurse. "If he doesn't, there will be a big price. ... It's hard to blame people for wanting to advance their career."
Times staff writers Laura Morel and Charlie Frago contributed to this report. Contact Kameel Stanley at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @cornandpotatoes.