No national police search, mayor says

No national police search, mayor says

April 2nd, 2010 by Cliff Hightower in Politics Local

The city of Chattanooga will not look outside its ranks for the next police chief, Mayor Ron Littlefield said this week.

"I don't intend to do a national search," he said. "We will treat this very simply."

Mr. Littlefield officially announced Thursday that Deputy Chief Mark Rawlston would be stepping in as interim chief after former Chief Freeman Cooper retired Wednesday. The move comes after the City Council voted 6-2 with one abstention Tuesday night not to contract Chief Cooper as the city's police chief.

City code states that interim positions can be held for 90 days. Without council approval, the interim position holder then must be returned to their original post.

POLICE CHIEFS

* Freeman Cooper: December 2006-March 2010

* Steve Parks: February 2004-December 2006

* Jimmie Dotson: October 1997-February 2004

* Safety Administrator Ervin Dinsmore: November 1995-October 1997 (interim)

* Ralph Cothran: 1989-November 1994

Source: Times Free Press archives

Mr. Littlefield said he would not conduct a national search because of two issues. First, most searches lead to candidates who are unhappy with their current position, he said. Secondly, candidates usually already are drawing a pension from a former police department, and he does not want to broach that issue again.

One of the controversies behind the council not approving Chief Cooper's contract was that he would be able to draw his pension while also receiving a city salary.

Several City Council members this week said they would not want a national search, and they felt there is a good pool of chief candidates within the police department from which to draw.

"I personally think we have quite a number of people within the ranks," Council Chairman Jack Benson said. "I would not want to search outside our police ranks."

Councilman Andraé McGary said he would not be against a national search. But controversy over the last week concerning Chief Cooper could be a factor, he said.

"In our present situation, I don't think it's a good idea," he said.

The last time the city conducted a national search for a police chief was 1997, when the city hired former Chief Jimmie Dotson. The cost for that search was $30,000, according to Times Free Press archives.

NOT CONTESTING INTERIM

Council Chairman Jack Benson said Thursday that the council probably would not push the matter of whether the interim chief needs to be approved by the City Council.

"I don't see that is going to be contested," he said.

A review by the Times Free Press of the City Charter and City Code showed that any vacancies must be approved by the council. The code states those in interim positions must serve no more than 90 days.

The mayor said this week there is no precedent for the council approving an interim appointment. City Attorney Mike McMahan said he believed that new interim Chief Mark Rawlston can serve up to 90 days before any action is taken by the legislative body.

Mr. Benson said that was fine with him "if that's what it takes to create peace and harmony between the council and executive body."

He said he believed interim Chief Rawlston probably would get unanimous approval anyway.

Mr. McGary said Thursday he had no problems with the appointment and that there needed to be some safety net for the mayor to appoint someone in case of an emergency. Sometimes it takes a week before the council is scheduled to meet, he said.

"Does that mean the mayor can't appoint somebody for seven days?" he asked. "That would mean the police department would not have a leader. That would be chaos."