Rebooting the selection of a new police chief will add weeks to a process that has already taken about a year.
Yet those who are likely to be tapped to help interview finalists for the job expressed guarded optimism Tuesday.
“I’m still a little bit skeptical, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Sandy Williams, a member of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs. .
In announcing that Craig Meidl would join finalists selected by an 11-member panel for another round of interviews, City Councilman Breean Beggs said the process would look similar, though not identical, to the one that produced Robert Lehner and Dominic Rizzi Jr. earlier this summer.
In that process, 41 interviewers questioned the two candidates on topics of community policing, accountability, community engagement and the department’s finances.
Then Mayor David Condon bypassed those candidates and chose Meidl, calling him “the best fit” for the community.
The City Council may reconvene the interview panels, Beggs said. The members mostly praised the deal that put other finalists back in the mix and requires Meidl to undergo the same vetting.
“I’m happy that the mayor and council were able to come together on some mutual agreement. That’s a positive step,” said Phil Tyler, president of the local chapter of the NAACP and an interview panelist.
But Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of the Center for Justice, said he was concerned that political bickering over Meidl’s confirmation process could give quality candidates pause about applying again.
“I just hope that some of the good candidates keep their name in it,” he said.
Lehner is unlikely to re-apply for the job. He announced at the beginning of this month he would retire in October after eight years as chief of the Elk Grove, California, police department. Messages left with Lehner and Rizzi asking if they were still interested in the Spokane job went unanswered Tuesday. Rizzi leads the Yakima Police Department.
A request for comment from James Dermody, the Seattle Police captain who removed his name from consideration prior to the interviews in July, also went unanswered.
Spokane Police Lt. Dave McCabe, president of the Lieutenants and Captains Association, also said he worried the political climate may have made the job less attractive. But he said the department and command staff need stability
Spokane Police Major Eric Olson said he also wanted to be part of the process, if the council reconvenes the interview panels.
“I am very interested in who is in leadership,” Olson said. “I want to have the right person in that chair.”
Beggs said the 11-member selection panel would meet within the next two weeks, and he’s working on specific language with the mayor’s office to lay out an interview process.
Williams said she’s willing to volunteer her time and energy once more to ensure the right pick is made for Spokane Police chief. But she wants to make sure her voice is heard in the process.
“I need to feel confident, this time, that it’s going to matter,” she said.
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