The city of Statesboro will reopen its search for a police chief, new City Manager Randy Wetmore and Mayor Jan Moore said Wednesday.
At Tuesday morning’s City Council meeting, Wetmore, who had been on the job as city manager only since the previous Thursday, made no announcement concerning the police chief. After about an hour in open session on various matters, the council spent almost another hour in closed session, with Wetmore present, for the purpose of discussing employment issues. But the only announcement when the meeting reopened was Moore’s routine statement that no actions were taken in the closed session.
Asked after the meeting about the police chief hiring, Wetmore had said he hoped to make an announcement by the end of the week.
“We have made the decision to reopen the search for a Police Chief for the City of Statesboro,” Wetmore stated in an email to the Statesboro Herald after 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“This decision is certainly not a reflection on any of the candidates, it simply demonstrates that we are in a very unique time as it regards the leadership of our police department,” he continued. “On behalf of the City of Statesboro, we would like to thank all of those who did apply, particularly the three finalists. The initiation of a new search does not preclude any prior applicant from reapplying.”
Bryan still interim
Wetmore concluded with a statement that Deputy Chief Rob Bryan will remain interim Statesboro Police Department chief during this time.
The mayor and City Council do not directly hire the police chief. Instead, the council hires the city manager, who hires the police chief and other department heads. City Council members clarified this when they re-established the post of police chief last fall after Public Safety Director Wendell Turner left for a job with the Canton Police Department. In Statesboro, Turner oversaw both the police and fire departments.
City officials launched the search for a police chief May 6 while the council was continuing its search for a new city manager. Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire continued as interim city manager for 26 months, through last Wednesday.
The city’s human resources office received 21 applications for the police chief post, and the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police assisted in reviewing them.
Two panels made up mostly of Statesboro residents and local officials were also involved in the process. One panel, which included Cheshire and other staff members, interviewed seven candidates July 7-8 and narrowed the list to three.
The finalists – current Hendersonville, North Carolina, Police Chief Herbert Blake; former Horry County, South Carolina, Police Chief Saundra Rhodes; and former Georgia Bureau of Investigation regional Special Agent in Charge Charles Sikes of Statesboro – were announced July 31.
A second local panel interviewed them with Cheshire and Wetmore present Aug. 9. That same afternoon, the three finalists spoke to the public in a reception held in the Sea Island Bank lobby.
But city officials at that time said background checks were still being completed. The city had a private agency, Southern Professional Investigations, based in Lawrenceville, do the background checks.
After the finalists were announced, Internet searches and news media queries from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, revealed that Rhodes’ early retirement in May came as a former Horry County Police Department detective was under investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Meanwhile, the department was facing two lawsuits related to officers’ handling of sexual assault cases. But Rhodes said she requested the investigation, fired the detective, and took retirement because she wanted to spend more time with her son and had planned to teach.
No specifics yet
Statesboro’s city manager will decide how the renewed search will be conducted, the mayor said Wednesday.
“I am not sure exactly what the process will be during this forthcoming hiring cycle,” Moore said. “That will be up to City Manager Wetmore to do that. I’m sure the process will be just as open and transparent as the one was in this case.”
Moore declined to discuss specific reasons for reopening the search.
“All I can say is that once all of the information was gathered and Mr. Wetmore had a chance to review it and go through his due diligence and period of discernment, this was his decision, and I am supportive of it,” she said.
In response to emailed questions, Wetmore said he has not set a timeline for the renewed search but hopes to have the selection process completed in no more than six months.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.