The subcommittee phase of the Columbus police chief search process is closed. It is now in the hands of the mayor and City Council.
Dispatch Publisher Birney Imes, who served as chair of a subcommittee he said was tasked with getting “a sense of who the candidates were,” gave a brief report Tuesday night on the findings. And the council was given a one-page report on each of the four candidates.
The four finalists left are Curtis Brame of North Chicago, Ill.; Nathaniel Clark of Albany, Ga.; Interim Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen; and Robert Spinks of Sequim, Wash. Sam Lathrop of Beloit, Wis., withdrew Oct. 27 from consideration, and city officials confirmed that Don Daniel of Casa Grande, Ariz., was the alternate slated to replace Lathrop. When Daniel also withdrew, the council decided to move ahead with only four finalists.
Imes told the council, the point of the subcommittee was to provide an “introduction” on each potential chief to the council.
“I am sure you are aware that there is some skepticism from the community about the search, and there is a perception among some that this decision has been made already,” Imes said. “We know the mayor and council will approach the interviews with an open mind and give each candidate equal scrutiny and an equal opportunity to succeed.”
According to Imes, the subcommittee also has concerns that some or all of the three out-of-town candidates might choose not participate in the interviews because of travel expense.
“There was also some concern among the committee that since the city by law cannot pay for travel expenses not all of the candidates will participate in the interviews,” Imes said, noting the subcommittee hopes funding can be found to either cover or help the candidates with their travel.
Imes finished by saying that the subcommittee believes the council “should reserve the right to restart the process if in the unlikely event after meeting with the candidates, you feel you do not have a suitable prospect.”
Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin asked Imes if the subcommittee feels confident about the four finalists, has any reservations about them or has any opinion regarding them.
“We feel that’s for you to decide,” Imes said in response.
“All of these men have, as best we can tell, performed well in the community they now work. The people we’ve talked to have very favorable comments about them,” he continued. “We didn’t try to rate them. We didn’t try to say, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on any of the candidates. We just tried to get a sense for who they were.”
Mayor Robert Smith said the next step for the city is to conduct criminal background checks on the finalists and then set up interviews with them. He said the goal is to begin interviews the first week of December.
In addition to Imes, the members of the subcommittee were Steve Rogers, WCBI assignment editor; Rep. Esther Harrison, D-Columbus, of Ward 1; and Bobby Jordan of Ward 2. Melissa Cook, Columbus-Lowndes Development Link vice president, withdrew from the subcommittee due to the Link’s view that the process is “flawed.” All were part of the original 21-person committee which dwindled the candidates from 25 to five.
Citizen vouches for Selvain McQueen
Carl A. Lee of Columbus spoke to the council Tuesday about the police chief position and said, “many of us in our community would like to see Interim Chief Selvain McQueen appointed to this position.”
The reasons Lee listed include being a longtime member of the Columbus Police Department; being “qualified in every regard” and “is African-American.”
“To appoint Chief McQueen will end a vestige of segregation hopefully forever,” he said. “It appears that once African-Americans became the majority of the city and we finally have African-American officers with long-term tenure, then we changed the selection process thereby continuing a discriminatory practice.”
Lee said the city has the “opportunity to change the status quo and move forward as an all-inclusive community.”
“While we do not contend because the community is majority African American that the chief must be African American, we do believe racism has been the primary reason why no African American has yet been named chief,” Lee said.
Additional citizen input
Lee also had some suggestions about city policy and went as far as asking for an annual evaluation of “all city contractual professional services and department heads.”
Lee singled out the city attorney position, held by Jeff Turnage, the chief operations officer position, held by Armstrong, and the chief financial officer position, held by Mike Bernsen.
Lee, who indicated he was speaking on behalf of a number of citizens, said other attorneys should get the chance to apply for the city attorney position.
“In regards to the chief operating officer and treasurer, appropriate evaluations should determine if the current position holders should remain,” he said. “We are concerned that these positions are taken or seen as electoral when they are appointed and not attached to the elected officials’ terms.”
Lee continued about Turnage’s position and said that an attorney holding multiple contracts with different government entities “creates the impression of a monopoly.”
“Finally, in as much as our present City Attorney Jeff Turnage is also the attorney for the city of Columbus Housing Authority. We believe this is representative of one person monopolizing these services or at least indicative of greed,” he said.
Armstrong and Bernsen declined to respond to the comments, and Turnage only said, “I would suggest doing a survey of hourly rates of other city attorneys and see how I compare. But other than that, I don’t want to respond to his comments.”
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