A keen sense of leadership, an ability to tackle gang issues and experience working with Hispanic populations are among the essential qualities that some in the Paso Robles community said they want in a new police chief.
The city-hired search firm responsible for finding and screening candidates hosted a town hall-style forum Saturday to discuss desired characteristics in a leader. The morning event drew about 60 people to City Hall.
“They have to be comfortable dealing with a diverse community with tourism, agriculture and cultural groups,” said city Planning Commissioner Al Garcia, who spoke as a private citizen. “Although this is a small town, this environment is complex.”
Others asked for someone who is a motivator, attuned to the safety concerns of seniors, has out-of-the-box approaches and can give credit to subordinates when credit is due.
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The new police chief would oversee the department’s roughly $8.3 million budget for about 20 patrol officers plus other staff in a city of nearly 30,000 people.
But even more, the new police chief will be tasked with bringing stability to the force after several recent upsets including allegations against the former chief, years of budget cuts and gang issues.
Former Chief Lisa Solomon, 43, resigned from her position April 2 after public attention swelled around her when a former officer accused her of sexual harassment and another claimed officers were required to meet illegal ticket quotas. Those officers now have lawsuits filed against the city.
The findings of a city investigation into the harassment allegations have not been made public.
Saturday’s forum presented a varied discussion that remained mostly civil, considering the issues around Solomon have been heated.“Let’s stop tearing each other apart, and let’s put our best face forward,” said Barbara Partridge, the city’s former longtime library and recreation director.
Pedro Arroyo, a San Luis Obispo County deputy probation officer, asked that Avery reach out to the city’s Hispanic community since it represents 30 percent of Paso Robles’ population.
“They will be directly impacted by the decisions you eventually make,” he said. “I think it would be wise to hear what they want and what they expect.”
Bringing focus to school resource officers is among the qualities Arroyo said he would like to see.
“I think that needs to be a priority — how the chief interacts with youth and families,” he said.
Representatives from the newly formed Change Paso Robles Now group voiced concerns on whether the new chief would be chosen before or after the November election, in which three City Council seats are up for grabs, including the mayor’s.
Its members are upset with how the council handled Solomon’s departure and would like fresh faces to be part of the approval process of a new chief.
“We believe it is in the city’s best interest to hold off on the hiring of the police chief until after the election,” group Chairwoman Karen Pellett said.
Los Gatos-based search firm William Avery & Associates Inc. was hired by the city last month for $13,900 plus up to $5,500 for expenses. The firm, headed by Bill Avery, will only be paid its fee if it finds a chief, he said Saturday.
It will take about four months to conduct the search, which will span throughout the state and into some out-of-state areas as well, he said. Internal candidates may also apply.
Candidates, each vying for a position that earns an annual salary from $124,000 to $157,644, will undergo telephone consultations and preliminary reference checks. Top candidates will get a face-to-face interview.
Avery will then bring in six to eight finalists for the city to review, he said, as well as a list of everyone who applied. The top two, whose names will then be made public, will undergo the final interviews and detailed background checks.
The top candidate will need to be approved by City Manager Jim App and the City Council. App previously said he expects to find a new police chief by the end of the year.
Paso Robles Police Capt. Robert Burton is serving as interim chief until a permanent successor is found.
Although there have been setbacks, Burton previously said the department employees are dedicated, talented individuals who are looking ahead. He hopes to carry over the department’s objective to beef up enforcement on gang crimes, narcotics and patrols and update the new chief on those issues when someone is hired.