DOVER — Citing displeasure with “external forces” allegedly attempting to disrupt official procedure for selecting a new police chief, Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen announced Tuesday morning that Deputy Chief Maj. Marvin Mailey will take command until a permanent leader is determined.
Reading from a prepared statement during news conference of no more than 10 minutes in his office at City Hall, the mayor pledged to oversee a transparent and honest process following official guidelines to replace retiring Chief Paul Bernat, one open to candidates inside and outside the agency from Delaware to nationwide.
Before declining a media request afterward to be more specific than mentioning Facebook posts, e-mail correspondence, and letters he received, Mayor Christiansen described himself being “very upset” about those “who are unduly trying to demand, intimidate, [lobby], [race bait], and [bully] … certain actions to occur regarding the selection of the next police chief of the Dover Police Department.”
Mayor Christiansen would not discuss whether Deputy Chief Mailey or anyone else has applied for the open position or indicated interest in pursuing it.
Last week, a Dover Police spokesman said no potential internal candidates were available for comment due to the nature of a national search opportunity.
Chief Bernat will retire on Jan. 17.
Diversity an issue
Councilman Roy Sudler attended the announcement and said afterward that many of his constituents have expressed to him the importance of having a new police chief who represents the diversity of the community he or she serves. Deputy Chief Mailey is the highest ranking African-American officer in Dover PD history.
Mr. Sudler said he did not believe bullying attempts had been made, but constituents had strong feelings about the opportunity to promote diversity at the top of law enforcement, as with other sectors within the city workforce.
“I’m not biased in this and will not say I’m in support of only Deputy Chief Mailey,” said Mr. Sudler, adding his belief in the second-in-charge’s strong credentials and candidacy.
“ … I’m a little disappointed that he has not been named the acting chief, but I believe that overall this has been a positive step for the overall process.”
Deputy Chief Mailey’s promotion by Chief Bernat over five senior officers in 2013 prompted the city to pay them a combined $300,000 to avoid potential civil liability. Council alleged that possible undue influence by then-Mayor Carleton Carey in the selection left the city vulnerable to more costly litigation, which Mr. Carey denied.
“The taxpayers of the City of Dover deserve no less than my full commitment in this process to prevent any punitive and monetary consequences to the citizens of Dover,” Mayor Christiansen said.
“It is my legal obligation to follow the directives given to me, as we expect citizens to abide by the law and rules in place in our society, I too must do the same.”
Urging the public to keep an “open mind,” Mayor Christiansen asked “that everyone remember why this was put in place.
“Please understand that this is the process that was created a year and a half ago, this was not created due to Chief Bernat leaving. …
“We must and will follow the approved process, we must do our due diligence to place the highest qualified individual in place and continue forward in making Dover a place we still believe in.”
It was not immediately clear whether Deputy Chief Mailey’s pay will be altered due to his new status. Dover’s police chief is budgeted to be paid $126,796.80 annually, with the deputy chief earning $112,715.20 per year.
When announcing Chief Bernat’s upcoming retirement in December 2016, the mayor expressed a goal to have a permanent police chief in place by April.
Through new city regulations, a five-member panel of city officials will participate in the selection process, and the mayor will eventually recommend a candidate for city council approval.
While not calling the deputy chief’s new role as an interim or acting basis, Mayor Christiansen said the senior staff officer would command “in the same manner as it is when the current chief is on vacation or leave of any kind.
“The senior officer on staff, takes the helm. When Deputy Chief Mailey is not available, it will continue down the chain of command to one of the captains and so on.”
Legal, economic concerns
The approach was taken due to “legal issues and in the consideration of economic concerns,” the mayor said, and will be in effect until the police chief search is completed.
Responding on Friday via email to an inquiry from Councilman Brian Lewis regarding why no interim chief was officially named, City Solicitor Nick Rodriguez answered, “We feel that confirmation should not take place because of the problems that could arise from [Delaware Code] which could require removal for cause and a due process hearing.
“We think that we need to be extremely careful in this regard and wonder why a formal interim appointment is necessary.”
Vowing to find a “candidate bringing the highest qualifications to the job,” Mayor Christiansen pointed to ordinance change on June 8, 2015 that altered the selection process and was unanimously approved by council members David Anderson, Roy Sudler Jr., Fred Neil, Mr. Lewis, Scott Cole, Jim Hosfelt, Bill Hare, Jim Hutchison and president Tim Slavin.
“I cannot, in good faith go against our own ordinance that was passed by council,” he said.
Mr. Hare attended the news conference and said Deputy Chief Mailey’s 23 years with Dover PD make him a strong candidate to lead the agency. He said promoting him to temporary command was the “logical move.”
“If you talk to Marvin I don’t think he wants any special consideration on his behalf and wants to be considered only on his qualifications,” he said.
The new process can increase opportunity to choose the best candidate possible, Mr. Hare said, which is not unlike other business decisions made by company’s.
“First of all you have to have someone who is qualified to do the job,” he said. “You have to take all of the concerns of the city to heart.
“I don’t think there’s any one area that’s more important than the other.”
Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org