January 9, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 1

Chief hopeful explains leaving job

Interim Haines Borough Manager Julie Cozzi said this week she was comfortable with a police chief candidate's explanation of why he resigned a $96,000-per-year job as chief in suburban Boise after being placed on leave in 2007.

Bill Musser

Bill Musser worked on the force at Meridian, Idaho, for 20 years before being promoted to chief in 2003.

"We'll find out much more after a background check, but it wasn't a disciplinary leave at all. The Mayor disagreed with what Musser wanted to do with staffing. It was a strong Mayor form of government and she wanted him to take time off and return with a staffing plan. He decided then it was time to retire. He retired under good circumstances," Cozzi said this week.

Musser, 55, is one of two finalists for the chief job following a month of screenings and interviews by Cozzi and others. Finalist Richard Crays, a law enforcement instructor for the State of Wyoming who lives in Glenrock, Wyo., will be in Haines by the weekend. He'll meet with members of the police department and attend a public reception starting 3 p.m. Friday at the public library. Haines Borough interim chief Simon Ford withdrew his application for the job Dec. 20.

Other than Internet-based news reports on Musser, Cozzi said she had no independent sources about Musser's departure. Musser, who met with residents in Haines Saturday, raised the issue while speaking with police officers here and provided a more detailed account during an interview with the CVN.

"I was on administrative leave pursuant to the Mayor (Tammy de Weerd) and some issues she wanted to address and some strategic planning, so she gave me some time to do it since I'd been so busy I hadn't been able to get there," Musser said.

"Part of the issues – if I remember correctly – had to do with... We'd had a couple (police department members) who'd done exit interviews and part of that was that they felt like they didn't get listened to as much as they should have and that sometimes maybe I asked other people for advice rather than make a decision myself. I tend to be a participatory-style leader," Musser said.

The town and police force had doubled in size during his four years as chief, Musser said, leaving him "extremely busy." The leave was to provide time needed for him to "develop some new communication strategies for the department," Musser said.

News reports raised questions about why he'd been placed on leave, which came back to him through questions members of the public asked his daughter and wife, he said. "Frankly, from my standpoint, you can mess with me all you want, but don't mess with my family... I told the Mayor, 'I don't think it was fair what went on and what my family went through, so I'm retiring.'"

The CVN this week was unable to reach Mayor de Weerd, who has led the city since 2004. City of Meridian spokesperson Natalie Podgorski this week said Musser left there "to pursue other career opportunities. Because this is a personnel issue, I can't provide you any more insights into his decision to retire from his position as police chief."

Musser received accolades from Meridian city leaders at a meeting where his departure was addressed. He has worked in law enforcement education since leaving the Meridian force.

Asked in the CVN interview about his knowledge of solving crimes, Musser said he worked more than seven years on investigations. "I'd spend about a year and a half on investigations and be bumped back over to patrol because I'd done a lot of troubleshooting for the chief at the time... I've been a trained investigator, which includes being able to investigate most anything from a petty theft on up to burglaries on up to homicide investigations."

As many as 30 percent of reported crimes aren't ever fully cleared, he said.

"It's a matter of being able to collect enough evidence to be able to corroborate what you have, in terms of a suspect, because without that corroboration, you're not going to be able to meet what's required for a successful prosecution. Corroboration is being able to independently verify what you think you know" he said.

Musser, who was a finalist for chief in Juneau, said he wanted the Haines job because he wanted to return to his roots. "I want to come back to a small department and I want to be part of a team that's more family-like. I want to be in a community where I feel I can contribute aside from being chief of police."

Asked his perception of Haines' three-member force, Musser said: "I think we have some very excellent people with a whole lot of potential here."

He provided his perception of the community. "It's a tight-knit community and is very aware of the things it would like to have. It's going to have dynamics in terms of some people looking at one view and other people looking at a different view, but it's a small community that takes great pride in and of itself."

Musser said he was seeking a job outside Idaho because he can't work there without giving up his retirement pay from the Meridian job.

Musser and Crays are from a list of 16 applicants for the job dating to last fall. Four finalists, as identified by former Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest, either have been ruled out or have withdrawn applications, Cozzi said last week.

Cozzi then looked at six or seven others from the list and scheduled a round of Skype interviews. That narrowed the list to four or five, which were interviewed a second time on Skype. Cozzi said she then narrowed the list to Musser and Crays. That decision, she said, had the support of borough public safety commission chair Jim Stanford, manager assistant Darsie Culbeck and consultant Lenise Henderson Fontenot, who has a contract with the borough for "team building and has been working with the department, Cozzi said.

Cozzi said no in-person interviews will be conducted with Musser and Crays.

Public Safety Testing, Inc., a firm in Lynnwood, Wash., will make background checks on the two finalists. Alaska-based Russell Consulting, which was brought on by Earnest, doesn't have time to check backgrounds during this round of candidates, she said.

Ford, whose police experience is limited to four years in Haines and nine months as interim chief, said he came to a "new appreciation for the benefit of having a chief with a substantial amount of training and experience."

"Given the relative youth of our current team, the prospect of training a new officer over the next several months, and the skills and abilities that I do possess, I would like to focus my efforts on fine-tuning the 'boots on the ground' team and let a more experienced leader write the grants, draft budgets, review ordinances and weigh in on issues related to borough government.  I also see the benefit of working for a mentor," Ford said via e-mail this week.

Cozzi said: "Simon has done a great job but he'll be the first to admit he's not very experienced and not mistake-free."