Friday, July 9, 2010

Reed's pick for APD chief raises questions in some circles

Posted By on Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 2:59 PM

OK, I realize my headline is vague and weaselly, two things that should be avoided even in a blog post. But the deal is today's announcement of George Turner as our permanent police chief will unavoidably confirm suspicions inside the APD and out that the months-long selection process may have simply been for show and that Turner was the mayor's choice all along.

Since at least April, Stephanie Ramage over at the Sunday Paper has been writing about how the fix was in for interim Chief Turner's eventual appointment as our permanent police chief.

Now, Stephanie may be a little too eager to embrace conspiracy theories, but the facts she cited as evidence were essentially on target.

First off, after being appointed interim chief in January, Turner announced a number of promotions within the APD. Rank-and-file cops seemed to interpret the fact that an "acting chief" was allowed to make personnel changes in such unilateral fashion to be a signal that he had the inside track on the job. I can't fault that logic.

Then there's what I'll call an "irregularity" with the search process. As it did with other important City Hall appointments, the administration named a search committee made up of local activists, union reps and prominent community members. Then an executive search firm was hired — in this case, Manhattan-based Russell Reynolds Associates — to gather candidate names, resumes and other pertinent information to give the search committee.

The search committee members I spoke to off-the-record were effusive in their praise of the vetting research done by Russell Reynolds and impressed by the diversity, experience and sheer number — around 30 — of the candidates they were shown. I'm told the committee spent hours interviewing and comparing a number of high-quality candidates before a pool of six were chosen for final consideration. From that short list, three names were submitted to the mayor.

Turner's name was not among them.

Shortly thereafter, the mayor's office contacted Russell Reynolds to get the next two names on the list. Within a few days, Reed announced his three choices as finalists: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport TSA Chief Dr. Cedric Alexander; Louisville, Ky, Chief Robert White; and our own acting Chief Turner.

Reed has since told me that he'd always wanted five names and that any confusion was due to a "miscommunication" between the Lisa Borders-led transition team and the police chief search committee. I confirmed that the search committees for other positions — aviation commissioner, CFO, etc. — had, indeed, been asked to supply five names. The mayor also said — persuasively — that he gave all his interim appointees free rein to run their departments as they saw fit, but it didn't guarantee them the permanent job.

The mayor has the authority to submit whichever candidate he wants for Council approval, but the public demands and deserves a transparent search process to offer assurance that Atlanta is getting the best possible police chief. It would be a shame if a miscommunication and other circumstantial evidence has cast suspicion over a post whose effectiveness depends so much on winning and keeping the public trust.

As one search committee member told me: "I'm going to support the mayor's selection, but it's unfortunate that the perception will remain in the community and the police force that this was a set-up."

The last administration learned the hard way that, when it comes to issues of crime and public safety, perception is reality.

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