Red Lodge, Montana

My thoughts on selecting our new Police Chief

Normally, I leave editorials to the editor, but I want to make it clear that this article is my personal opinion, and the word “publishertorial” sounds really stupid.

I have been intimately involved in the search for a new Police Chief in Red Lodge since former Chief Richard Pringle retired (see his interview in the March issue of the Local Rag). I worked in the electronics industry for 25 years, and I’ve hired a lot of people. I’ve also been on nonprofit boards hiring Executive Directors, and I’ve been involved in recruiting corporate board members and officers. I’ve never seen a hiring process like this one.

Mayor Ed Williams stated while he was running for office that selecting a new Police Chief was quite probably the most important decision he would make for Red Lodge if he was elected. After taking office, he said that he wanted to make the process as public and transparent as possible, soliciting input the whole way through.

Ed contracted with an executive search firm that specializes in city employees in February. The search firm, Prothman, assigned Bob Carden to head up the search team – a man with 37 years of law enforcement that has served as Police Chief in three different towns. When Carden came to Red Lodge, Williams arranged focus groups of citizens to meet with him and talk about what they wanted in a Chief.

Throughout the process, he continued to provide updates at his public forums (Tea With the Mayor, Coffee With the Mayor, and Afternoon With the Mayor) and solicit feedback from citizens. Over 60 people applied for the job. Prothman and the City of Red Lodge narrowed the field to four finalists, and brought them to Red Lodge with their wives.

The finalists were Joel Fish from North Carolina, Nate Harder from Minnesota, Steve Hibler from Indiana, and Ken Weaver from California. The Mayor arranged a public “meet & greet” at the Elks where anybody from Red Lodge could meet the candidates, chat with them, and fill out feedback forms. All four finalists were given the opportunity to talk to the crowd and answer a few questions.

Since a job like this is really a family decision, Diann Larson and Sharon Williams also took the candidates’ wives out to breakfast and a tour of the Red Lodge area.

The following day the candidates were subjected to a rigorous interview process consisting of four panels. The panels consisted of citizens, business owners, City officials, and representatives from the fire department, Sheriff’s office, and police commission. I had the pleasure of moderating one of those panels. We spent over four hours questioning the candidates, and then got together with the members of the other three panels for a debriefing session with the Mayor. We obviously had preferences, but the sixteen interviewers were basically unanimous in saying we’d be happy with any one of the four.

After this process, one of the candidates (Nate Harder) withdrew his name, saying that he couldn’t afford to buy a house in Red Lodge big enough for his family. The Mayor set to work on choosing a Police Chief from the other three finalists.

Bob Carden said, “I don’t know if I have seen as open a process as I have seen here in Red Lodge,” and I quite agree with him.

If you live in or around Red Lodge, you had an opportunity to participate. Ed went through a huge stack of feedback forms and listened to loads of people talk about their preferences. He invited everyone in the area to attend his open forums, and answered just about any question that was thrown at him. Every single member of the City Council got involved, as did some of the City staff.

This was not your stereotypical “smoke-filled room” decision. The candidates had a chance to get to know Red Lodge, and Red Lodge had a chance to get to know them. The process was open and transparent, as such a major decision should be. The RLPD is about to change, and I’d like to thank Ed for letting us participate in that change.

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