David Rodeback's Blog

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Big Personnel Decisions at American Fork City

It is a truism that the level of government which most affects us, and which we generally understand least, is local - in my case, American Fork City. Hold that thought, and add the idea that police and fire protection are among the most basic functions of a city. Finally, add the idea that high-quality city planning is almost as crucial as fire and police protection, in a municipality which stands to double in population over the next two or three decades.

American Fork City's present searches for a new police chief, a new fire chief, and a new city planner are important opportunities for a lame duck mayor (the term is simply factual, not pejorative). He and his people can do the city a great service or do considerable long-term harm, depending on how things go.

These officers are selected and appointed by the Mayor, with the consent of a majority of the City Council. There's nothing wrong with that. I have heard expressions of confidence from people who know the inner workings of the City better than I do, who believe that Mayor Barratt will make the best decision in each case, and that cronyism, lame-duck lassitude, and other dishonorable influences will not intrude. I suppose I can accept their confidence in his judgment in these matters. He certainly ought to be motivated to do well; these personnel decisions will be a major part of his legacy.

That said, here are some things I haven't heard from the Mayor's office, but would like to. Hearing them would boost my confidence in the process and its outcomes. If I were in the Mayor's position (don't hold your breath), I'd want to communicate them unambiguously and aggressively. To avoid unnecessary repetition, I'll use the example of the police chief; the reader is welcome mentally to adjust each statement to suit a fire chief or city planner.

  • "Chief Fox is the expert here. We've consulted with him in detail about the job listing itself, and about the criteria we will weigh in considering resumes, conducting interviews, and making a final decision. We want to make sure we don't miss something important. For example, our new police chief should have some sort of advanced command training. We might not have thought of that ourselves."
  • "We will certainly consider excellent internal applicants, but we will also consider proven leaders who can come in from outside the area, who have not been involved in any infighting or scandals that may have touched AFPD in recent years, and who can start fresh and on an even playing field with City leaders and residents alike."
  • "AFPD salaries are not competitive, which means we tend to lose our most capable, best-trained, most experienced officers. We will start solving this problem right now, at the top. We have completed a thorough study of police chief salaries in comparable communities, and we are determining the salary range on that basis." (Note that a Salt Lake Tribune article reports that the current, second search for police chief involves a higher salary range than the first.)
  • "We will not put the selection of our next police chief to a popular vote, but we will publicly announce the names and qualifications of applicants who make our short list, and we will provide opportunities for interested city residents to meet them and form their own opinions."
  • "The current legal climate in the United States makes it difficult to obtain reliable references. Employers and former employers can be held civilly liable for giving a negative recommendation, so most won't. As a partial solution, we will investigate applicants' past performance ourselves, insofar as it is a matter of public record. Again, we will publicize the names and qualifications of candidates on the short list, so that interested residents may themselves evaluate applicants' qualifications."
  • "We want to make sure our new chief is committed to the long-term quality of life in American Fork, including the conscientious enforcement of reasonable and effective nuisance ordinances."
  • "We're looking for a candidate who has the skills, credibility, and knowledge necessary to function well with his peers in the area and to interact effectively with all levels of government."
  • "If there are candidates who feel themselves entitled to the position, because of personal connections with some City official or other, they should understand from the beginning of this process that cronyism has no place in the government of American Fork."
  • "Since we hope that the new mayor and the new chief will work together well for years, we are inviting the input of both remaining mayoral candidates at several stages in the process."

Of course, I only want to hear these things if they are true. I should also note that a couple of them might contradict existing regulations and accepted practices. If they do, I would be content in those cases if the people's elected representatives, the City Council, were involved and informed in the manner I have described, instead of the people at large.

A sound, documented, open process doesn't absolutely guarantee better results than a closed or improvised process, but it certainly improves the odds. It also looks better from outside and tends to promote public confidence in the outcome.

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