Gardner may have a new police chief come July.
City administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee said the search for a new police chief is winding down, and she hopes to recommend a candidate for the job during the June 17 city council meeting.
The new chief will replace Ken Francis. Francis died last September after more than 25 years as Gardner’s Chief of Police. In honor of his service, city officials waited 25 days to begin an extensive search that to date, has lasted more than eight months. Harrison-Lee said the search was not hurried.
“Because we haven’t hired a chief for 25 years, 10 months is not too long to make a decision that might stick with us for another 25 years,” Harrison-Lee said.
The city didn’t hire a head hunter or consultants to assist in the search, but the lengthy process was more than just a few people sitting in a room reading resumes. Harrison-Lee said one of the first steps was surveying the current police officers to determine what they hoped to see in a new department leader. The survey will provide a foundation for the new chief to move the foundation forward.
“Every officer in the department has had an opportunity to provide input,” Harrison-Lee explained.
City officials conducted a national search, and initially received 60 applicants from across the country. A search committee, including city staff, Harrison-Lee and members of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, pared that list down to a dozen candidates.
The 12 candidates received a questionnaire, and based on their responses, the committee narrowed the field again to five candidates.
Last month, Harrison-Lee and a handful of other officials, interviewed those candidates. “We spent a full day with the candidates,” Harrison-Lee said. “We asked them to come in and review a law enforcement scenario. We asked them to prepare a presentation for the panel. We interviewed them, and then we asked them to present their thoughts on the law enforcement scenario.”
The field has now been pared to two finalists, and Harrison-Lee said she is simply awaiting detailed background checks. The checks include criminal and credit checks as well as talking to their past and present employers, talking with people in their communities and getting a feel for how they’re viewed in their communities, Harrison-Lee explained.
“(The check) will talk about strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, and based on that, we’ll have a recommendation that will go to the council for appointment,” she said.
She anticipates having a recommendation by June 17, with a goal of having a new chief in place sometime in July.
“We are very deliberate in trying to select someone that will be a good fit for this community, and for the staff and to provide the leadership we believe is important to move the police department to the next level,” she said.
Because both of the finalists for the job are external candidates, she is hopeful the internal department survey will assist the new chief in fitting in with the community.
“I’m probably the wrong person to ask that, because I’m an outsider,” Harrison-Lee, who moved to Gardner from Florida to take on the role of city administrator last year, said.
“If you’re not part of the community, you demonstrate leadership and you talk with the residents and the business community, and you create a relationship where you listen to them, I think if this new chief comes in and takes an active role, I believe they’ll be accepted.”