Sunday, February 4, 2007


Are you here? Are you there? Are you anywhere? I hope that you contacted Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil before the deadline. He asked for input on the qualities the new ‘top cop’ needed, and he’s heard a lot at forums, from emails, from Town Council members, and from other conversations. Problem is does someone with all of the suggested qualities really exist?

If the person who can come closest to possessing all of the suggested qualities isn’t already in our community, can an “outsider” be given the opportunity to learn and grow while on the job? After all, this is a pretty demanding place and if nothing else, we are “opinion-gifted” and more than willing to share.

What is impressive to me is that our new town manager, Roger Stancil, has asked for input from the community. This process has given our new town manager a unique opportunity to get to know us better, as well as get our take on things like a police chief.

The first two of the series of forums that sought citizen input were not well attended at all. Two people came to each of them. Tip of the hat to Dale Pratt-Wilson and Ron Bogle, who made suggestion after suggestion to the consultants who conducted the first forum.

Ms. Pratt-Wilson heads the Coalition for Alcohol & Drug Free Teenagers, and she wanted a chief who would work towards the goals of her organization. Mr. Bogle said that he wanted a chief who officers had confidence in and one who would give responsibility to others.

Much was made in the media about what was seen as an apparent lack of interest on the part of citizens. Why didn’t people show up to provide input, some wondered. I can now turn the question around: why didn’t the media show up at the January 23d forum at the Hargraves Center in Northside?

A couple dozen citizens were there and were more than willing to participate. Ms. Rebecca Veazey, president of The Management and Personnel Services Group
(MAPS) explained the process. She would use all of the input received to come up with a list of qualities that the new chief should have. After screening the candidates who apply, a small number will be asked to participate in an assessment center (a process, not a place, she pointed out). Candidates would participate in a series of assessments, including role playing, community presentations and other exercises that would measure a person's behavior.

Once she completed her presentation, she asked for questions about the process. What she got was an almost immediate response to what qualities the new chief should have. She and the town manager got an earful, no, make that two earfuls.

The first group of responders focused on fairness issues and they wanted a chief who would treat people right, respect them, and make sure his or her officers did the same thing. Like a rolling wave, the comments cam one after another, and many were punctuated with personal or second-hand anecdotes for support.

People talked about assumptions that they thought police made about people of color. Some focused on the need to crackdown on drug dealers, but not assuming that every young man was a drug dealers. Others talked about holding officers to a high standard of behavior and training them to work with the community.

One participant made a point that clearly got the manager’s attention. He offered that maybe the reason why the other forums weren’t as well attended as the one in Northside was because the residents of Northside have had a more contentious and hostile relationship with the police department than other parts of town.

Where was the media to report this perception? Of course, it’s not new, but it sure is germane to the task. Accurate or not, that perception is the reality for those who believe the police are not fair, right, and respectful. Of course, there’s always more than one side of the story, but the version presented in Northside that Tuesday night needed to be heard by the manager.

Another tip of the hat goes to Delores Bailey and the EmPOWERment staff for getting Northside neighbors to come out and share their views. Another tip of the hat goes to Roger Stancil for being the kind of town manager who is willing to invest the time to listen to what folks have to say, even when it might be painful to hear.

He listened, and I think he is using a great process. We want whomever he picks using of this process to be the best fit for our community, and lead our police department with distinction. If that’s the result, then that’s a good thing.

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