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Next Clearwater police chief will have been popularly vetted

The Clearwater city charter assigns the task of selecting a police chief to one individual: the city manager. But to their credit, city officials have made the process of finding a replacement for veteran police Chief Sid Klein open and inclusive, encouraging advice from the public and officers in the department.

It has been 28 years since Clearwater hired a police chief, and none of the current decisionmakers in city government has experience at doing so. But these officials have one advantage: They know what a good chief looks like. Klein's record is one to emulate. Under his direction, the department has grown in size, capability, professionalism and stature. It has a national reputation for innovation and excellence, and a number of its officers have gone on to become police chiefs elsewhere.

One need only observe the controversies in St. Petersburg in recent years to understand how important a stable police department is to a community. Clearwater has been blessed to have the same chief for almost three decades — a chief who, for most of those years, was accepted and respected by the public, city leaders and the department's rank and file.

Klein will be retiring in February, and ever since he made that announcement last August, City Manager Bill Horne has been clear about two things: He would conduct a vigorous national search for Klein's replacement, and he would welcome advice from everyone concerned about that choice.

Advertisements went out. Applications poured in — more than 100. A list of the dozen most promising candidates was created and those candidates were brought to Clearwater for interviews. Horne appointed a committee made up of himself, Klein, the city personnel director and police union officials to interview finalists.

When the list was whittled down to four, all four were brought to Clearwater and subjected to town hall meeting-style questioning by the public. Residents were asked to fill out "feedback forms" ranking each candidate on demonstrated knowledge, leadership image, communication skills, confidence and personableness.

City Council members also had one-on-one meetings with each finalist so they could offer their opinions to the city manager.

Horne used all of that advice to reduce the list of finalists to two: Tony Holloway, 47, who had served almost 22 years in the Clearwater Police Department and has been police chief in Somerville, Mass., for two years; and John Jackson, 44, who had spent most of his career in Overland Park, Kan., but has been police chief in Alamosa, Colo., for two years.

Now Horne and his committee will travel to Massachusetts and Colorado to interview locals about the two men and their strengths and weaknesses. Horne has said he will appoint Klein's replacement sometime in January.

The transparency Horne has employed in the search for a new chief has several benefits. It has allowed residents to stay informed on the search and, for those who were interested, has provided an avenue to share their opinions. It has given the public a taste of the challenges involved in choosing the successor to a successful and long-serving chief.

And it has conveyed to the job candidates that Clearwater city government values inclusiveness, openness and partnerships. And that's a good message to put out there, no matter who wins the job.

Next Clearwater police chief will have been popularly vetted 12/29/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 9:09pm]
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