Police chief interviews still behind closed doors

Friday, February 1, 2008

Lewisburg's Police Board interviewed three, instead of four, candidates for police chief last weekend and was scheduled to interview two more last night, the city manager has said.

Newport News, Va., Police Sgt. Michael Berry did not go to the interview that was scheduled for him on Saturday, City Manager Eddie Fuller and Councilman Robin Minor reported this week.

And so, unless Berry has a legitimate reason for not attending, the field of candidates will apparently be reduced to seven.

The three candidates interviewed on Saturday were Amelia County, Va., Sheriff's Lt. Bruce Almarode, former Franklin, Tenn., Police Deputy Chief Joseph David Sanders and ITT Technical Institute Division Commander John Warren Headrick of Maryville, Tenn.

Scheduled for interviews last night were Metro Nashville Police Detective Lt. Michael W. Von Dohlen of Brentwood and the Sarasota County, Fla., Sheriff's Law Enforcement Division commander, Major Chuck Forbis.

David C. Ray, interim police chief here, and Warsaw, N.Y., Police Road Patrol Capt. Kevin L. Gehman are scheduled to be interviewed on Thursday night next week.

The interviews are being conducted by the Lewisburg Police Advisory Board, a panel appointed by Mayor Bob Phillips, who was authorized to do so by the City Council.

Because the board is a government panel subject to the state's law mandating open meetings, Rick Hollow, general counsel for the Tennessee Press Association and the attorney who successfully sued the Knox County Commission last year, has said the interviews should be conducted during open meetings. Not doing so risks a civil suit that could result in the removal of the city's next police chief because decisions made contrary to the open meetings law results in nullification of the decision.

While the front door of City Hall was not locked on Saturday, the two ground-floor doors that provide access to halls that lead to the city conference room were locked as they are normally.

The decision to interview the police chief applicants was reached by Police Board Chairwoman Lina Horner, who explained she was following advise from City Attorney Bill Haywood.

"We were here from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m." Saturday, the city manager reported in City Hall this week. "The time is coming when the board will hold a meeting and decide who they will recommend."

The advisory board's recommendation will go to the city manager who, under the city charter, has the responsibility to hire the police chief.

Fuller asked how the city's selection process is different from what the county Board of Education is doing. The Tennessee School Boards Association reviewed applications from 17 people and delivered five recommended candidates. The TSBA is a private association of school boards. The Police Advisory Board is a public panel that previously announced its intentions to meet when the public could attend.

As for the prospect for the Newport News Police sergeant, Fuller said that on Monday he reached Berry's home by telephone and the policeman's wife answered the telephone.

Berry's wife gave Fuller the sergeant's cellphone number, which Fuller called. He had to leave a voice mail message and had not heard back from Berry by 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

Berry apparently called a City Hall secretary earlier last month, asking about how much the chief's job pays.

"Maybe the salary is not enough for him," Fuller said.

Lewisburg's next chief will be paid $55,000 to $65,000 depending on experience.

"I've kind of written him off, but if he has a legitimate reaso, then we might possibly schedule a time for him."

Fuller planed to report those circumstances to the board last night.

"They may say 'Write him off,'" Fuller said. "His next shot is next Thursday."