Following the breakdown of negotiations with former police chief candidate Richard Crays, Haines Borough interim manager Julie Cozzi Tuesday recommended the hire of runner-up candidate Bill Musser.
The assembly approved the recommendation 5-1, with assembly member Debra Schnabel opposed.
Cozzi said she “never wavered in her support of Bill Musser,” despite not initially recommending him for the position.
The Public Safety Commission voted Monday to recommend interim police chief Simon Ford for the job after the assembly ceased negotiations with Crays. The commission also advised that in the case of Ford’s refusal, the borough start the hiring process anew.
Commission chair Jim Stanford said in an interview Tuesday the hiring process with Crays was flawed because too many people were involved in the negotiations.
“The community is in a crisis mode with mistrust of this whole process,” Stanford said. “From who I know on the police staff, they do not like Musser.”
Cozzi said she “strongly advised against” the commission’s recommendation to start the hiring process over again, warning that it would take a long time.
She also emphasized there is a one-year probationary period for the job and that “there is no harm in trying.”
“I’m really hoping that before too much time goes by we find ourselves going, ‘Wow, we almost missed out on this guy.’ That’s what I’m hoping,” Cozzi said.
Musser also agreed to accept a $75,000 salary, Cozzi said. “He said he would not accept anything higher than that at this point because he is an unknown to you, and he would expect to complete his academy recertification in Alaska and serve his probationary period before he would seek any additional funds,” she said.
Musser told Cozzi he could start as soon as Feb. 27.
Ford said he would not reconsider taking the position, but said the decision had more to do with his personal life than in his confidence to do the job.
“I find it very hard to balance the needs of my family with the needs of the department in this capacity, and frankly, the needs of my family are more important to me than any job,” Ford said.
Assembly member George Campbell said he supported Cozzi’s recommendation because of a previous hiring experience he had. Campbell said a hiring committee he was a part of ended up choosing a candidate that wasn’t initially the favorite, but it worked out.
“What we ended up with was a superior person in the position we were looking for,” Campbell said.
Schnabel said in an interview Wednesday she vote against Cozzi’s recommendation not because of doubts about Musser’s qualifications or Cozzi’s assessment abilities. Creating consensus following the Crays debacle would have been preferable, she said.
Cozzi read aloud from several of Musser’s references, which stated Musser was “articulate,” “humble” and “highly motivated to be a police chief in a small town.”
“He does not have any violence or temper issues,” Cozzi read from one of Musser’s references. “If he disagrees with someone, he will talk it out and try to find the middle ground. He does not have significant highs or lows; he is even-tempered and rational almost all the time.”
Cozzi said the only negative characteristic that came up during the background checks was Musser’s tendency to talk down to less-experienced people.
“He has been trying to work really hard on that and he appreciates it very much when people bring it to his attention,” Cozzi said. “He said that is never his intention.”
Musser worked on the police force in Meridian, Idaho, for 20 years before being promoted to chief in 2003. He has since worked in law enforcement education, corrections, and as an investigator for a social service agency.
He resigned from the Meridian chief job after being placed on administrative leave in 2007. Mayor Tammy de Weerd did not return multiple calls for comment to explain why she placed Musser on administrative leave.
Musser said the effect of media coverage of his leave on his family prompted him to leave the Meridian chief position.