December 12, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 49

Police chief decision postponed

It’s back to square one in the Haines Borough’s search for a new police chief.

Interim manager Julie Cozzi is “taking a second look” at some of the applications for police chief previously discarded by former manager Mark Earnest.

Out of 16 applications received after a second round of advertising, Earnest chose four finalists, including interim police chief Simon Ford. The four applications were forwarded to Soldotna-based Russell Consulting LLC for background checks.

Cozzi said Ford was “the last man standing” after the background and reference checks, but she has decided to go back and review some of the other applicants who met the job’s minimum qualifications.

“Ultimately, I would like to end up with another shortlist to send to Russell Consulting for professional background checks. Simon Ford is still in consideration. I just believe a second look at the applicants is prudent,” Cozzi said.

Russell Consulting hasn’t billed the borough for the first round of background checks, Cozzi said. “That’s just the kind of guy (Russell) is. I think part of it is maybe because it has taken longer than it normally does. I don’t know what all the reasons are there.”

Staff is currently performing preliminary screenings and research of about seven additional applicants, and Cozzi said she intends to involve the Public Safety Commission in review of the applications and subsequent interview process.

Cozzi said advertising a third time is an option, but she “would like to do that only if necessary.”

“I was considering going out for a third time to get a few more. We’ve already gone out twice and we really need to get the show on the road. I just thought maybe it would be a good idea to take a look first at the other ones,” she said.

Jim Stanford, chair of the commission, said he is glad Cozzi has chosen to restart the process and include the commission, something Earnest didn’t do.

“I think he went through the pile really quickly, probably within 30 minutes, and said, ‘Oh, this guy doesn’t look too good, I’ll throw them out,’” Stanford said.

The original process was too insular and didn’t include enough input from a variety of stakeholders, Stanford said, including community members and the school board. “I think the more input from more people, the better. I think the whole community needs to weigh in on a position as important as police chief in this town.”

Before looking at the applications, Stanford said it is critical to define what exactly Haines wants in a police chief, especially since the last one didn’t work out so well. “The central question to ask people is not to look at applications, but before you get to that stage, what would you like to see in a police chief for Haines?”

Stanford said he doesn’t favor hiring a headhunting firm to find a new chief.

“I have found in most cases when we hire a professional consulting firm, we don’t listen to what they say anyway. It usually becomes a complete waste of money,” he said.

Interim chief Ford said he understands that Cozzi wants to “remove all doubt” that the next chief is the best for Haines, and called the second go-around a “logical step.”

“I would rather see the borough add an extra level of scrutiny to the contenders than select a candidate that doesn’t manage the department well – even if that means we have to wait a little longer to fill the position,” Ford said.