It took too long and looked too messy, but St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman made an inspired choice in selecting Clearwater police Chief Anthony "Tony" Holloway as the city's next chief. Holloway has the Tampa Bay experience and leadership skills to turn around the divided St. Petersburg department. The bumpy road to his surprise appointment will be forgotten if he is successful, and voters will hold the mayor accountable if his new police chief falls short.
This is why leadership matters in City Hall. The St. Petersburg mayor's most important appointment is the police chief. Getting it right can improve public safety and create relationships in neighborhoods throughout the city that nurture a common purpose and a positive tone. Getting it wrong can lead to increased crime, further division and a negative image of a city that is on the upswing in so many respects.
Kriseman insisted on a national search led by a private firm. He recognized that choosing another police department insider to be chief was not going to bridge long-simmering divisions that may be defined as much by seniority as by race. While he was initially upbeat about the list of finalists, he concluded none of them were the right fit and privately looked toward Clearwater. The worst outcome would have been for Kriseman to settle for one of the finalists if he did not have complete confidence in any of them.
There is a lot to like in Holloway. He has experience on the street and as a police chief. He was groomed to be Clearwater police chief by his longtime predecessor, universally respected Sid Klein. He has experience in areas Kriseman wants to emphasize, including modernizing technology and community policing techniques aimed at getting officers out of their cars and closer to residents. He has developed solid relationships in Clearwater's Hispanic and African-American communities. St. Petersburg's gain is Clearwater's loss, and it's understandable why Clearwater officials are disappointed to lose him.
It is not insignificant that Kriseman chose an African-American to be St. Petersburg's new chief. That reinforces his campaign message to residents in low-income, predominately black neighborhoods that their voices will be heard, and some of the scars left by the 1996 racial disturbances have not healed. Some black residents have fresh complaints about uneven or unfair policing, and Holloway has experience effectively dealing with such frustrations in Clearwater's North Greenwood neighborhood.
There will be a learning curve. The St. Petersburg Police Department is nearly twice as big as Clearwater's, and there is a historical distrust of outsiders. The public scrutiny of the police chief is greater, and he will have to be more open and communicate more effectively than he has at times in his old job. But a new chief from outside Florida would have faced those same challenges, and Holloway has the advantage of being both an insider in Tampa Bay's law enforcement community and a fresh face for St. Petersburg.
Kriseman will be criticized by those who wanted him to promote popular Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan, and by others for appointing someone who did not apply for the job. But the search process served a purpose. The feedback from police officers and the public clarified the skills the new police chief needed and raised reservations about the finalists, which led Kriseman to recruit Holloway.
Strong mayors seek public input, weigh the options and take decisive action based on their best judgment. Kriseman's selection of Holloway demonstrates he is willing to accept that responsibility, and his choice appears to be a good one for the city.