July 24, 2003


Qualities for police chief discussed at lightly attended public forum

The committee helping the Village manager search for a new police chief released earlier this month a draft list of qualities the chief could have, including sensitivity toward people of different races, gender and class. The list also included managerial qualities and tasks the chief would be expected to tackle.

The list was presented at the Yellow Springs Police Chief Forum on July 9, which the committee and Village Manager Rob Hillard organized to allow local residents to discuss the qualities and characteristics they would like to see in the next chief. Seven members of the public, three of whom work for the Village, and seven members of the Village Police Chief Search Committee as well as Hillard attended the forum, which was held in the Bryan Community Center gym. Despite the low turnout, participants discussed issues related to the search and the Yellow Springs Police Department for an hour and a half.

Local resident Jonas Bender led the discussion when he stressed the importance of hiring a chief who is sensitive about race issues and working with a diverse community. He encouraged Hillard and the committee, which will assist the manager in combing through the applications, to go beyond the candidates’ resumes.

Bender also suggested they ask questions about race, including specific queries about the race issues in Yellow Springs, whether candidates have ever been accused of discrimination and whether they have ever worked in a department that was integrated.

He encouraged Hillard and the committee to discuss with the candidates the “aura of diversity and tolerance” in Yellow Springs and the reality that the new chief will have to adjust to working with “many types of people.” Such a conversation will either “scare” a candidate away or “kindle interest in our community” in the candidates, Bender said. He encouraged Hillard to hire someone who “understands what this community is about.”

Another audience member, John Hart, said it was important that preference be given to the candidate who has had “experience in a community like ours,” and that each candidate show he or she can “function in a community that has a wide spectrum” of people.

Ken Metz, a part-time dispatcher with the Police Department, said that he thinks it is likely the next chief will come from a large department, so it will be important for that person to understand the difference between running a large department and a small one.

Both Hillard and John Grote, who is serving as interim police chief and is also a member of the search committee, said that the chief must be a generalist, who is willing to both work behind the desk and do road duty.

The search committee’s list of “possible characteristics” for the chief included both personal qualities and ways that persons may approach the job. In addition to being “sensitive and supportive” of diverse people within the Police Department and the community, the chief may be expected to be open to communication. The list says that the chief would have “a strong commitment to a productive partnership with the local schools” and have an understanding of issues involving youth.

The list also addresses administrative responsibilities, including keeping the department up-to-date on training, equipment and technology and promoting flexible and adaptive policing methods. The list states that the chief would be willing to delegate responsibility and utilize the skills of the department’s staff.

The Village is currently advertising for a new police chief to replace Jim Miller, who was placed on paid administrative leave in March and who will officially retire in September. Miller said in the spring that he agreed to retire because he and Hillard differed on how the Police Department should be managed.

Though a committee is assisting Hillard in the search, it is Hillard’s responsibility to pick a new chief.

The deadline to apply for the job opening is Aug. 15, after which time the committee and Hillard will sift through applications. Hillard plans to conduct a first round of interviews, which could involve five people, in September, then bring at least three finalists forward for meetings with the public and Council.

The forum also featured a brief discussion on whether the Village should require the new chief to live in Yellow Springs or Miami Township. The Village manager is the only Village personnel whose employment includes a residency requirement. The Village Charter requires the manager to live within one mile of Yellow Springs, but not outside Miami Township. Hillard said that the search committee has “started a dialogue” on the residency issue.

Bender said that he thinks requiring the chief to live in town is important because it would help the chief know “what’s going on in the community and anticipate problems” and solutions.

Tom Haugsby, a member of the Police Chief Search Committee and the president of the Yellow Springs school board, said that he was concerned about how a residency requirement could affect the pool of candidates. Some potential candidates might not apply if the Village makes residency a requirement, he said.

The forum took a noticeable turn when Al Pierce, an officer with the Police Department, gave his support for hiring Grote as the new chief. “That guy over there, he is so humble but effective,” Pierce said of Grote. “He’s the kind of person we need for this place.”

Grote did not comment at the forum, saying it was not the place to discuss Pierce’s remarks. After the meeting, Grote said that he continues to not be interested in applying for the chief’s position, explaining that he thinks he can “do a better job as captain.”

“I feel like I can do more work and I can support the rest of the staff at the level I’m at,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t want the job,” Grote said. “It’s just I truly believe there’s people out there who can do the job better.”

There’s local support for at least one other person, John Winks, a former Yellow Springs police officer who left the department in 1999. In May, Council was presented with a petition containing about 300 signatures supporting Winks for chief.

—Robert Mihalek