By Charles Sercombe
Recently City Manager Katrina Powell announced that she has hired Acting Police Chief Anne Moise as the new permanent chief.
But at least one city councilmember has an issue with that.
Councilmember Anam Miah, who just won re-election to council, is making a public complaint about what he calls the “process” of the appointment.
He says in an open letter that Powell should have first confided with the council.
Here is his letter in full, without editing:
Dear City Manager Powell:
I am writing to protest your decision to entirely bypass City Council in your selection of a permanent police chief. I want to state from the outset that my objections do not relate in the least to the interim chief.
My concern involves the process (or the apparent lack of one) by which you arrived at your decision to make a permanent hire and your failure to follow the mandate of the Hamtramck Charter to appoint a police chief subject to a majority vote of the mayor and council.
Not more than two weeks ago, the council made it quite clear that it was looking to you to demonstrate transparency in your decision making. Instead, without providing any notice (except for the program you created for the New Year’s Day swearing in of new city officers), you scheduled a ceremony to swear in a permanent chief.
As a councilmember, I would have liked to know what other candidates you had for the position. In addition to their relative qualifications, I would have liked to know the process by which you identified alternative candidates.
According to the ICMA website, [http://learning.icma.org/store/seminar/seminar.php?seminar=25406&pc=calendar], “choosing a fire or police chief is one of the most important decisions a local government manager has to make. The chief not only has to react during times of crisis, but must have the leadership and vision to shape a department that connects with the community.” For this reason the ICMA and the International Public Management Association for Human Resources have recently collaborated to create a data-driven assessment tool for the selection of police and fire chiefs [See,http://asr.ipma-hr.org/2012/10/police-and-fire-chief-selection/].
As things stand today, I have absolutely no idea how close you have come to following best practices for the selection of perhaps the most important member of our executive staff.
I do not know whether the residents you have sworn to protect want to find out when a real crisis hits whether you have selected the right person for the job. That is why the charter mandates that the public hear about the process and the candidates.
We are elected to help frame this sort of discussion and it is Council’s prerogative, after listening to your recommendation and the public’s reaction to it, to make the final call.
This is the best practice. It is mandated by law. It is democracy in action. You have nothing to fear from a fair and open process and we all have much to lose from a closed one.
While it may have been the case in the past that our union contracts mandate appointment of an internal candidate, the city spent years negotiating that provision out of the ROA’s last contract. I would have thought that that hard-fought position would have allowed you to at least entertain interest from external candidates that might have fresh ideas from outside of our own department.
This sort of decision making is not what I had in mind when I said that you needed to be more transparent in the way you make decisions. I do not take kindly to the sort of contempt that you have for the Charter-mandated process. I believe that there may be room for us to agree on the ultimate result here, but the process exists for good reason.
We are seeing the results elsewhere in this state of what occurs when our unelected leaders refuse to take the public interest into account when they make decisions. I won’t sit silently and wait to find out when it really counts whether you hired the right person to lead our police department.
At the very least, you owe council an explanation about your search and, if none was conducted, tell us why you made that decision and according to what objective criteria.
Know this. If you decide to continue down this path, not only will I make note of it for future decisions about your performance, I will make sure that you and the people you report to own each and every outcome that results from your bald refusal to follow the Charter-mandated process.
God forbid something happens to one of our citizens as a result of your failure to even consider alternatives and I will be sure to remind anyone who will listen who authored the outcome. Since we all know that the Governor won’t be held to account for what disasters may follow, you can guess who the public and that same Governor will want to make responsible for your decision to throw caution to the wind and ignore the peoples’ elected representatives.
In closing, I want to reiterate that I bear absolutely no ill will to the interim chief. I support her and the other members of the department in keeping our streets safe. But she deserves to know that she didn’t just get the job by default. The only way that can happen is with a fair and open search using objective and nationally-recognized criteria.
I am asking you to delay your decision until you have provided us with some of the specifics I have requested above. The interim chief has served us in the interim capacity for some time now. She is to be credited for that. But there’s no magic in rushing to a final decision here until you have provided the elected governing body of this city with the sort of details that will, at a later time, let them know that they have hired the right person for this extremely important job.
Councilman Anam Miah