Paso Robles and Morro Bay are closer to finding police chiefs

Two cities in San Luis Obispo County are getting closer to naming new police chiefs.

About 20 candidates for Paso Robles police chief are being screened via telephone, while the Morro Bay Police Department has narrowed its search to two.

Officials declined to say whether any of the candidates at either city are internal.

But in Morro Bay, City Manager Andrea Lueker did confirm that one candidate is from San Luis Obispo County while the other is from Santa Cruz County.

Morro Bay expects to have a new chief by the end of the year, while Paso Robles could have one in place by early 2013, officials said.

The small coastal department had an opening after former police Chief Tim Olivas left Morro Bay in April to become undersheriff for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

Also in April, the Paso Robles Police Department began searching for a new chief following the departure of Lisa Solomon, who resigned after a former officer accused her of sexual harassment and another claimed officers were required to meet illegal ticket quotas. An internal investigation into the sexual harassment claim was suspended when Solomon’s resignation was effected, City Manager Jim App said.

Both issues are now wrapped up in lawsuits filed against the city.

Paso Robles and Morro Bay are using William Avery & Associates Inc., a recruiting firm based in Los Gatos.

Paso Robles

In Paso Robles, 61 applications were received, and about 20 résumés “look promising,” said Bill Avery, search firm president.

Paso Robles’ next chief will oversee the department’s roughly $8.3 million budget for about 51 employees, including officers, dispatchers and other staff for a city of nearly 30,000 people.

The position’s salary is up to $160,020 per year, about $10,000 more than previously reported, due to contractual salary changes the city incurred in July.

Of the 20 candidates, approximately half are out-of-state while others are from throughout California, including some from the Los Angeles Police Department.

There are “several” candidates from San Luis Obispo County, Avery said without elaborating.

The initial batch of phone-screening sessions is expected to take three to four weeks. Interviews and preliminary reference checks will be done, and some candidates may visit Paso Robles, officials said.

Once the list is narrowed to six to eight people, App said the city would determine which candidates to invite for interviews.

Three interview panels would conduct sessions over about two months, App said, with each panel to include a police chief or equivalent, two citizens chosen by the City Council, a Police Officers’ Association representative and a top management representative from the city.

The City Council is slated to discuss how the panel’s citizens will be chosen at its Tuesday meeting, App said.It is key to have citizen input for many in Paso Robles, because the issues surrounding Solomon’s departure have been tense.

Some of these concerns were hashed out this summer when Avery held two community forums asking residents what qualities they would like to see in the next chief. A keen sense of leadership, an ability to tackle gang issues and experience working with Hispanic populations were among them.

When the panel identifies the top two candidates, those applicants will take part in another round of interviews and checks.

The top pick will then receive a comprehensive background check, including psychological and physical exams, in a process slated to take an additional two months, App said.

If the person doesn’t pass those checks, the city will re-evaluate. If all goes well, the city expects to have a new chief in early 2013.

Morro Bay

In Morro Bay, 66 applications were received. Candidates underwent an application process similar to Paso Robles’ search, ultimately resulting in six recommended finalists.

Those top picks were then interviewed Aug. 30 by three interview panels, which included city department heads, City Council and community members, employees and others.

The two finalists will be interviewed by the city manager this week, Avery said.

The salary range is $100,619 to $142,660 annually. The chief will be responsible for a $3.25 million annual budget and a staff of 26 employees serving a population of about 10,000 people.