STALLINGS – Town council members gave town manager Brian Matthews the green light Monday to fill the police department vacancy left by the resignation of Chief Michael Dummett.
Dummett, who had been with the town since December 2010, resigned last Thursday, March 30, after being put on paid administrative leave Feb. 6 following several complaints against him from police officers.
Mayor Lynda Paxton said the independent investigation regarding those complaints has been completed, but she couldn’t elaborate as to the details of the complaints or the investigation.
During what was intended to be a special budget meeting Monday, April 2, Paxton said she was saddened by Dummett’s resignation, adding, “We’ve been without a chief for nearly two months now, and I know there’s some turmoil within the department and community, so I feel it’s important we address the hiring and selection process and get it moving as quickly as possible.”
She suggested the council form a hiring committee like they did in 2010 before hiring Dummett. Commissioners Paul Frost and Wyatt Dunn agreed that was a good way to move forward, but commissioners Reed Esarove, Shawna Steel and Fred Weber felt the hiring process could be done without their input.
“I think we’re getting way too involved in this process,” Esarove said. “I have a hard time reconciling the fact we’re supposed to hold the town manager accountable for placing all the staff underneath him and we’re doing it all … we’re taking control of this process and I don’t think we should. I think the town manager should … in order to hold him accountable for his decisions we need to stay out of this process.”
Steele agreed and said a hiring committee would only slow down the hiring process.
“Time is of the essence and I think this would just bog the process down and slow it down, and the community wants a new chief to move forward and get this part of the department’s history behind us,” she said.
“The process worked well in 2010,” Dunn countered. “No one expressed concern at that point during the whole process. There were some personal characteristics of Dummett we weren’t aware of because we didn’t do a thorough enough investigation. So we’re coming off a severe black eye. We need to do our due diligence this time and do it properly. If I was Brian, I wouldn’t want it all on my shoulders. If we can do this in the same process as before and include some things like the independent background check and assessment, it will be better.”
Frost made the motion to form a committee, but it failed 2-3, with Esarove, Steele and Weber opposed.
The board did unanimously agree to allow for a $250 travel reimbursement for any final job candidates traveling more than 100 miles for the interviews. The council also voted unanimously to get the job posted immediately.
Following the meeting, Paxton said she was disappointed in the council’s decision to not form a hiring committee.
“As I said in the meeting, I think this is one of the most important positions that will be made … I have no problem with manager’s authority to make this decision, but it’s important other people be involved in the selection process,” Paxton said. “I frankly don’t understand it. We were satisfied with the process we utilized in 2010. It was a good process and I think we could improve it by adding new components, but overall it was productive and useful. So to have a reversal of that now, and to only allow one person to have input, I just don’t think it’s a good decision.”
While the council won’t have input in the hiring process, Paxton said she’d like to see someone with an extensive law enforcement background, business management skills and at least a master’s degree in the role of chief. She also said she hopes the hire will be from outside the community.
“I think there are feelings among some council members we need to make sure the search is open to the largest pile of candidates, not just someone local,” Paxton said. “And frankly, I feel like it’s crucial to have someone from outside, to get a fresh perspective and evaluation of what needs to be done in the department, because it is too tainted by local politics. A fresh view is needed in my opinion.”
Paxton said she’s also asked the council to approve an in-depth review of the department. She explained a review is typically done for accredited agencies every three years in order to get an objective assessment of the department.
In its nine years the department has never has such an audit.
Matthews posted the job Wednesday, April 5, and will leave it up for about two weeks. He said the entire search process would take no less than 45 days. In the interim, Capt. Mike Eudy will continue to handle the command duties.