Finding a new police chief has been arduous, much like the job itself.
That is why the process has taken so long, Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker said on Monday. Parker was reacting to criticism of that process — a search which has been ongoing since former Chief John Evans’ departure on Dec. 31.
Joined by city Human Resources Director Amy Martin, Parker met with The Exchange to address a series of questions that he received from a “concerned citizen” last week as well as to dispel any misconceptions about the hiring process.
“One of the questions was why it has taken longer for us to hire a police chief than it did for us to hire a fire chief … and the answer is that hiring a fire chief is a much simpler process,” Parker said.
Evans, who also served as a part-time fire chief, was replaced by former fire inspector and lieutenant Randy Gibson on March 19.
According to Martin, there were a number of reasons Gibson’s hire came relatively quickly.
“I want to be careful not to understate (Gibsons’) role and responsibility, but he is a grade 21 manager and the police chief is a grade 28, our highest grade. All other managers fall somewhere in between.”
Fire chief is the lowest level of department manager in the city’s hierarchy.
“Just by virtue of the difficulty of the conditions involved, including the span of control, the budget requirements – the police chief manages a larger budget and more employees of anyone, while (Gibson) has a mainly volunteer force to manage.”
The police department budget exceeds $3.1 million, while the fire department’s budget is about $774,229 for the current fiscal year.
Martin pointed out that the chief of police is asked to manage employees on the same level (21) as the fire chief. There are about 48 employees in the police department and about seven in the fire department.
“Our police chief is our highest graded position in the city. The only higher position is the city manager, and it isn’t on the same scale. This hiring process involves bringing in outside agencies, and managing their schedules is difficult as well,” Martin said.
Among the outsiders involved in the evaluation process were the police chiefs of Pinehurst and Lumberton as well as the sheriff of Hoke County.
Those individuals were joined by Gibson, Martin, interim City Manager Harold Haywood and two city council members in evaluating the candidates through a four-stage testing process. Parker declined to name the council members that participated in the evaluations.
That process includes an “in-basket” evaluation where the candidate is asked to describe how they would handle a crisis situation, a written examination, an oral evaluation and a panel interview.
“When you look at how long it takes to hire someone to chief of police historically, this has actually been a rather short recruiting process,” Martin added.
Additionally, because Gibson was being asked to fill his role as inspector and lieutenant as well as serve as interim fire chief, he was receiving overtime pay that made it financially advantageous for the city to move quickly in finding a permanent fire chief.
In reviewing the initial candidates for both positions, Martin said that the list of people interested in becoming fire chief was also much less competitive than the list of individuals interested in becoming chief of police.
“In the fire chief selection there were not any candidates that even compared to (Gibson),” Martin said.
For all of those reasons, Martin said that Gibson’s hire naturally came in advance of finding a chief of police.
The lack of a full-time city manager and the time required in managing that hiring process concurrent to the police chief hiring process has also contributed to the recruitment taking longer than it otherwise might have, Parker indicated.
“We’ve got several balls in the air, and we are finally starting to get them stored away,” Parker said.
“The process just isn’t as cut and dry as the public would like it to be. The police chief, other than the city manager, is our highest profile, most scrutinized employee. Some cities pay $75,000 to a consultant to expedite the process, but our method is to watch our money a little more closely,” Parker said.
Of the more than 40 applicants considered for city manager only three remain in consideration, Martin said. City officials have declined to name the finalists for the job.
Had interim Police Chief Kimothy Monroe not executed his duties so well, Parker and Martin both agreed that city staff may have felt added pressure throughout the recruitment.
“We are in good shape with Chief Monroe at the helm. We are not concerned about his ability so there is no rush,” Parker said.
“And if we had financial concerns like with the overtime involved with (Gibson), there would have been more pressure,” Martin added.
With the naming of a permanent city manager expected on Tuesday, Parker said that the city will be faced with new options in the chief of police recruitment.
Because the police chief is hired by the city manager, they could go ahead and have Haywood sign off on the hire, or they could wait until the new manager takes over – likely after July 1.
“Another possibility is that (Haywood) may want to be released from his responsibility … and we may have an intermediary come in to bridge the gap – someone with more experience in hiring and budgeting.”
And for those concerned that the police chief hunt may drag on much longer, Parker said that it was “nearing its end.”
Regardless of when it does come to a close, Martin said that he fact that the recruitment has taken this long is a good thing.
“It’s a sign that they’re taking this very seriously and asking the right questions and looking at the different skill sets and vetting the candidates rather than trying to please people by moving quickly.
“Trust me, slow is better in this process.”