Tuesday, the Columbus city council took a first and important step in the process of hiring a new police chief to replace Fred Shelton, whose retirement after five years as chief goes into effect on Aug. 15.
With the enthusiastic support of a large crowd at Tuesday’s city council meeting, assistant chief Doran Johnson was chosen unanimously by the council to serve as the city’s interim chief.
The choice seems prudent given Johnson’s experience in law enforcement and his familiarity with the community. Johnson has 36 years of police experience, almost equally divided between the CPD and the Columbus Municipal School District. In addition to his 2 ½ years as CPD’s assistant chief, Johnson spent five years as CMSD’s police chief, so he comes equipped with a fair amount of management experience.
Johnson said he has ambitions to become the chief on a permanent basis, so this will be an opportunity to prove himself worthy of that role as the search process begins.
We believe the city avoided a self-inflicted wound when it passed on Mayor Keith Gaskin’s suggestion last week that Lowndes County Sheriff Eddie Hawkins might serve as interim chief. That idea was never presented to the council, but the prospects of that move clouded the discussion until Tuesday.
The motivation behind Gaskin’s idea was good. Having a candidate for the permanent position serve as interim is not ideal. In a perfect world, all candidates for the position start on equal footing.
But having someone such as Johnson, who is familiar with CPD staffing, operations, policies and procedures will be helpful, especially since the department is woefully understaffed, and it should allow the city to take the necessary time in identifying the person who is best to serve as permanent chief. This is no time to rush.
Realistically, a thorough process will take months, not weeks, especially if the council heeds Gaskin’s suggestion that the city cast a wide net in identifying qualified candidates. The quality of the hire is ultimately a reflection of the quality of candidates and there’s no reason why the council should limit itself on the potential pool from which to draw.
We also applaud the council’s decision to form a 10-person hiring committee, which will include four citizens not connected to city government. Although there were no specifics on what citizens would be selected, we urge the council to appoint people with a background in HR, hiring and management.
As noted, this is likely to be a long process, but we are encouraged by the steps taken Tuesday. Johnson will provide stability for the department as the search begins and a committee made up of both city officials and community members will bring a broader perspective to the job at hand.
This is a crucial hire, one that should favor the most qualified above everything else.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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