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Public invited to meet chief finalists
Event is 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday in lobby of downtown Sea Island Bank
Herbert Blake, Saundra Rhodes and Charles Sikes

             The city of Statesboro is inviting the public to meet the finalists for the job of police chief - Herbert Blake, Saundra Rhodes and Charles Sikes -Tuesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the lobby of Sea Island Bank at 2 East Main St.
        Despite the unusual location, the "meet and greet," with light refreshments offered, has also been announced as a City Council meeting. That way, council members may also attend while complying with the open meetings law.
        "The meet and greet is really just to give the public the opportunity to meet face-to-face the three finalists so that they can form their own opinions and convey them either through their elected official, or to the human resources department or to me directly, so that everybody feels they are part of this process," said Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire.
        During the first half of the 90-minute program, the finalists will be brought in one by one to introduce themselves, and Cheshire will ask each a few questions. For the second 45 minutes or so, the finalists will go into the crowd to meet citizens, who can ask them questions one-on-one, he said.
        The finalists are vying to head the Statesboro Police Department. Described in the job ads as authorized to have 88 personnel, including 74 sworn officers, the SPD serves a city with about 30,700 residents.

The finalists
        For eight and a half years now, Herbert Blake has been police chief in Hendersonville, N.C., where he leads a department with 53 full-time employees, including 46 sworn officers, plus about 10 part-time staff. Hendersonville has about 14,000 residents, but its police department also serves an extraterritorial jurisdiction with a population of about 20,000, he stated in his resume.
        Blake has been a law officer for almost 25 years, rising through supervisory ranks, with several police and sheriffs' departments in the Carolinas. Before taking the top job with the Hendersonville department, Blake was police chief for seven years in Loris, S.C., which has about 2,500 people.
        In addition to his law enforcement work, Blake served more than 18 years in the Navy. He attained a bachelor's degree in criminal justice administration from Park University and a Master of Arts in business management from Webster University, both in Missouri.
        Saundra Rhodes retired in May as chief of the Horry County Police Department, based in Conway, S.C., after more than 23 years with the department. She was promoted to chief in September 2012, after first serving from February 2012 as interim chief and as a captain in the department since 2006. She began her service with the department as a detective in January 1993.
        Horry County is the largest county by land area in South Carolina and has about 300,000 people, including the cities of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Conway. The cities have their own police, but the county department, the only one of its kind in the state, patrols the entire county and, with 294 employees according to Rhodes' resume, is more than triple the size of Statesboro's police force.
        Rhodes attained a bachelor's degree from the University of South Carolina and a master's from the University of Cincinnati, both in criminal justice, and is a March 2015 distinguished graduate of the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Va., she reported in her resume.
        Charles Sikes is known locally from his 30 years with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other roles. After retiring in 2001 as special agent in charge of the Statesboro regional GBI office, he was director of the Bulloch County Probation Department from 2003 to 2006. He also served as Bulloch County clerk of courts by special appointment, from the resignation of one elected clerk until the election of a new one, from July 2013 until June 2014.
        A decorated Vietnam veteran, Sikes served with the U.S. Army and the Georgia Army National Guard for a total of 28 years, retiring as a National Guard colonel. He was an embedded law enforcement professional in the military, with assignments to Iraq and Afghanistan, from 2008 until 2013.
        Sikes has degrees from Georgia Military College, Georgia College, and Georgia Southern University, including a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's in adult education with a minor in criminal justice.

Transparent process
        As a city department head, the police chief is hired by the city manager, not directly by the mayor and council. But city officials say they are using an unusually transparent process because of the level of the Police Department's interaction with the public and the sensitivity of the role.
        The city is also hiring the chief while transitioning to a new city manager. Cheshire, who has served as interim city manager for two years, is continuing in that role until Aug. 31. Randy Wetmore, under contract to be city manager beginning Sept. 1, will also attend Tuesday's event and be briefly introduced, Cheshire said.
        Prior to the meet-and-greet, a panel made up of local citizens and a police chief from the Atlanta area will interview the finalists behind closed doors. This is the second panel involved in the process. The first, a panel of city employees and outside law enforcement personnel, interviewed seven semifinalists July 7 and 8.
        The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police helped review the original 21 applications. The association's executive director, Frank V. Rotondo, said he and other staff members did preliminary background checks and suggested about eight to 10 candidates they believed were all qualified to do the job.
        Cheshire and Statesboro city Human Resources Director Jeff Grant said they made their own list and found it meshed closely with the association's. Both lists reportedly included all seven semifinalists.
        The city has Southern Professional Investigations, based in Lawrenceville, doing detailed background checks on the finalists. The firm's Facebook page "About" paragraph states that it consists of retired GBI agents.
Cheshire said he would consult with Grant and Wetmore and hopes to have a decision in one to two weeks.
        Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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