Monday, July 09, 2007

Baker's No-Brainer

In May, Durham City Manager Patrick Baker narrowed the search for Durham's next Police Chief to three final candidates: Ronald Hodge, Durham's current deputy police chief; William Donald "Don" Green, a deputy chief of the Knoxville (Tenn.) Police Department and Jose Lopez Sr., an assistant police chief of the Hartford (Conn.) Police Department. In announcing the finalists, Baker noted that, in his mind, all three were viable candidates for the position:

"I am thoroughly impressed with the solid experience of these finalists," City Manager Patrick Baker said in a release.

"They meet the criteria and qualities I had in mind for the next chief, including having risen through the ranks at a similar size police department, holding positions that allowed them to develop strong field and management experience, combined with an appreciation for strong community relations," he said. N&O

Seven weeks later, Baker has yet to conclude the search process with the hiring of a new Police Chief. Given the three choices he left himself, it would appear that the decision is a no-brainer. Although each of the three candidates possess similar experience and career paths, as noted by Baker in his press release, Hartford's Assistant Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr. is the only logical choice among the three remaining candidates.

Knoxville Deputy Chief Green's rumored reluctance to commit more than a few years to the post combined with his acceptance of the duplicitous Chalmers/Baker report on the department's role in the Nifong/Mangum Hoax (Green stated: "[the] justifications that were in the report seem reasonable to me.") clearly remove him as an acceptable replacement for the invisible Chief Chalmers. While championing the empty Hoax report that was widely decried for its absence of substance, merit, and truth is sufficient to distrust his candidacy, Green's apparent short term commitment is the bigger issue. For a city that has faced this search process several times in the past two decades, the prospect of repeating the effort again within a few years is unattractive at best.

Jim Wise of the News & Observer's Durham News described the revolving door at DPD headquarters as follows:

It's been just five years since Durham last went looking for a chief, and our next will be our sixth in the last 20 years.

In 1988, Chief Talmadge Lassiter retired after an inquiry found "severe organizational stagnation" on his watch. His successor, Trevor Hampton, quit in '91 over internal problems -- including unsubstantiated reports of a call-girl ring working through police headquarters.

Then there was Jackie McNeil, who took early retirement in 1997 after giving up administrative duties in the wake of sexual-harassment accusations and a record 43 murders in the city the previous year.

Teresa Chambers arrived to start 1998, ran a secretive but sound outfit and left in '02. Her chief of staff, Steve Chalmers, was named interim while then-City Manager Marcia Conner sought a replacement.

Five months later, Gregory Watkins from Kansas City had the job -- only to resign before starting after his history of female- abuse came out. Chalmers' hat was in the ring, but he heard through the search consultant that he was out of the running. A third candidate, William Carcara of Kentucky, had meantime lost out on the chief's job in Sarasota, but when offered the Durham post said he was changing careers.

After another month's search, Virginian Douglas Scott accepted Durham's call, only to quit -- again, before he ever started -- over his benefits package. Just in time for Christmas, the slighted but loyal Chalmers got the job after all.

Now he's retiring, and word that a leading chief candidate, Ron Hodge, went to court 10 years ago over spanking his son with an official city of Durham nightstick -- already gives 2007 a feel of deja vu all over again.

Well, if the current litter doesn't produce a pick, Baker has an unannounced candidate at hand -- a lawman known in the community and not afraid to take on a town, who shoots from the hip, calls 'em as he sees 'em and needs a job.

Mike Nifong.

This is Durham. Stranger things have happened.

Durham Deputy Chief of Police Ron Hodge is an entirely unacceptable candidate for the top post in a department in desperate need of restoring the public trust. The appointment of Hodge as Police Chief would only serve to signal acceptance of the status quo. At a time when the department is under intense public scrutiny for its complicity in the framing of three innocent men for crimes that have been proved to have never occurred, the promotion of Hodge, whose own actions in the Hoax investigation are likely to come under review, is the worst choice available to Baker.

At his Bull City Rising Blog, Kevin Davis makes the case for change within the Durham Police Department:

Which brings up the greater point: is it time for new leadership in the DPD? Hodge certainly represents the status quo, given Chalmers' absences over the past year.

Personally, my mind in at least one candidate's case was made up by comments that Ron Hodge made at the public forum for the three finalists earlier this month. As Andrea Weigl of the N&O reported:

At the public forum Tuesday, Hodge told the audience, "I don't recall that the Durham Police Department has been involved in something where we made major mistakes in the last five years." He said that though some errors may have been made, they were not "fatal to the outcome of the case."

On Friday, Hodge said he stands by his comments. "A major problem to me is uncovering corruption in the department," he said. "I don't see, at the end of the day, whatever is uncovered about what the Durham Police Department did not do as it relates to the Duke lacrosse case will be major."

What's really galling about this turn of phrase is that it's the ultimate lose-lose thing to say. If you believe the DPD erred in the case (which we truly won't know until the end of the upcoming committee investigation, if even then), then you're immediately biased against Hodge, probably irrevocably so.

On the other hand, if you think the fault lies strictly with Mr. Nifong -- you're probably still flabbergasted by the comment, which shows the nuance and subtlety of, well, a brick. I mean, there's lots of better ways to have said this, right? Such as:

"Obviously the lacrosse case has not shed the most glamorous light on the City of Durham, its government or its police department. I believe that an investigation will show that the Durham Police Department didn't commit mistakes that lost the case; I think that particular case in general, which is on everyone's mind, will go down as an anomaly amidst a period when we made progress on crime and have reduced the murder rate in the Bull City. By the way, did I mention my experience doing just that as a District One commander?"

...and so forth. If you can't talk your way past a hardball question, what are you going to do when the City Council throws real heat at you, or the next time (God forbid) the Durham police chief is in the national spotlight?

Chalmers certainly didn't do the department any favors by walking, no, running away from reporters' questions every time they came up and giving the impression, warranted or not, of ducking the issues. The next DPD chief is going to be in the spotlight with the local media at the least, given Durham's "gritty" reputation.

Does this mean you want a PR wonk running the police department? Absolutely not. But I'm a firm believer that your ability to communicate effectively doesn't begin and end when the cameras and reporters' tape recorders shut off. You need to demonstrate leadership to your department, too, and part of that lies in the ability to communicate well and often to them.

Beyond communication, it's the little problem of leadership that's really at the heart of the problem with Hodge's statement. A much wiser man than I once told me that managing was about following the process. Dot the i's, cross the t's, and no matter what happened, you did things right, he said.

Leadership, on the other hand, is about the results you bring to the table. Process still matters, but there's something more important at stake -- you also have to execute and you have to make good outcomes happen. If managing is doing things right, leading is doing the right things.

Hodge's statement at the public forum reeks of a managerial mentality: check and cross-check the regs, keep your head down, don't screw up, and you're doing just fine. Technicalities over outcomes, chain of command versus being a commander. It does not demonstrate a readiness to step forward and take the reins of leadership.

At his Dependable Erection Blog, Barry Ragin, Durham Precinct 19 chair, offers a succinct description of the decision facing City Manager Baker while questioning the delay in making a decision.

It's been well over a month since the field of candidates to replace outgoing Durham Police Chief Steve Chalmers was narrowed down to three finalists. And it's been over three weeks since the finalists appeared at a "meet the community" forum at City Hall. City Manager Patrick Baker was quoted back in late May as saying he'd be making a decision in mid-July. I heard a rumor last weekend that the decision may be pushed back into August.

Basically, I wonder who's being served by taking that long to make the decision.

The main fork on the decision tree, it seems to me, is do you think that Durham's Police Department needs a change of direction? If you say no, then Ron Hodge is your guy. If you say yes, then he's not.


My own feeling is that the need for change probably goes even deeper than Mr. Hodge's inability to come up with the right answer to a question at the public forum. The reputation of the DPD is pretty low right now in a lot of circles. Promoting from within, which i'm usually a pretty big fan of, is not going to help with that problem. And moving forward, if DPD doesn't want every single move it makes to be questioned by those with axes to grind, fixing the reputation problem should be job 1.

So for that reason, i think it would make sense for Patrick Baker to step forward earlier rather than later, and let us know what his answer to the question of whether the Durham Police Department needs to move in a new direction is. Even if he hasn't settled on a final choice, i don't think it violates protocol for him to announce that decision. Both of the out of town finalists are candidates for other positions. The longer he waits, the more likely that circumstances may tie Mr. Baker's hands.

In our view, the choice of Jose Lopez Sr., given the unacceptable alternatives, is so clear that if, for any reason, Lopez is deemed unacceptable, or declines the position, the second option for Baker should be to renew the search process and develop new candidates.


Anonymous said...

We truly won't know if the DPD erred in the case?

You lost me there. I think there's ample evidence in the record.

Gottlieb has lied, Baker has lied, we know the Department's own Policy was broken repeatedly.

LieStoppers said...

9:45: The quote you refer to is from the Bull City Rising blog cited in the post. It represents Davis's opinion, not ours. We've invested quite a bit of time identifying DPD "errors" and will continue to do so. Although the errors are readily apparent to those of us who have paid close attention to the Hoax as it has developed and been exposed, Davis's comments reveal that, for some, acceptance of the misdeeds and errors as factual will only come after an official investigation.


Anonymous said...

I believe the person who wasn't sure DPD erred was the blogger at Bull City Rising, not LieStoppers.

Anonymous said...

My fault. My mistake, I see that now.

So Sorry

Anonymous said...

Reading Green's statement that "justifications that were in the report seem reasonable to me", I couldn't help but hear it as it might be parodied by The Simpsons:

GREEN: No matter what kind of corruption there is in Durham, no matter how deeply the wrongdoing goes, I will stop at anything to get to the bottom of it!

Anonymous said...

What a history of Police Chiefs. Hodge should fit right in with this crowd.