St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman picks firm for police chief search

ST. PETERSBURG — The Police Department could have a new leader within 90 days.

After vowing to make it a priority for his administration, Mayor Rick Kriseman picked the Mercer Group to lead a nationwide search for the next police chief.

The Atlanta-based firm will be paid $14,750 — the lowest of eight bids received by the city. The Mercer Group is expected to recruit, screen and check the backgrounds of candidates. It also would arrange interviews between officials and candidates.

The job is already listed on the firm's website.

Mercer will take applications between March 5 and April 11 and interview final candidates on May 15 and 16. The next chief will be picked May 16, according to Mercer's proposal. Negotiations follow days later.

W.D. Higginbotham Jr., a senior vice president in Mercer's Seminole office and a former Madeira Beach city manager, will lead the search.

A summary of bids shows Mercer Group will not recruit candidates already placed in other jobs by the firm. If the next chief leaves within two years, the firm will conduct a new search at no cost.

The Mercer Group has helped fill police and fire jobs in small- to medium-sized cities across the country. Kriseman picked Mercer over firms in Virginia, Illinois, Florida and Texas.

St. Petersburg has not had much success when hiring outside chiefs.

"We're looking forward to the next chief," said Detective Mark Marland, head of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association. "It's kind of status quo right now. Nobody is rushing out to hire the first applicant."

Former Mayor Bill Foster vowed that city staffers would do the search when former police Chief Chuck Harmon announced his retirement in September. The idea became an election issue.

By November, dozens of people already had applied to lead the department, which hasn't had a new chief in a dozen years.

On the day he defeated Foster, Kriseman said picking a new chief was a top priority. Foster then halted his search. Those candidates will be considered in this search.

Before leaving in January, Harmon said Assistant Chiefs Melanie Bevan and Luke Williams should be strongly considered. Assistant Chief Dave DeKay is the interim leader.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter @markpuente.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman picks firm for police chief search 02/25/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 11:04pm]

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