City’s personnel changes complicate search for new police chief

 

DOVER — Departures have come for two months and might continue.

First, Dover Police Chief Paul Bernat retired on Jan. 17.

Then came Scott D. Koenig, who worked his last day as city manager on Friday.

On Wednesday, Ann Marie Townshend announced her resignation as the director of planning and community development, city planner and building inspector.

Next Tuesday, Jim Hosfelt could be elected to Kent County Levy Court and soon resign from city council.

James Hutchison earlier announced his council retirement following an April 18 election.

On Friday, Mayor Robin R. Christiansen said he hopes the exodus was complete and remaining city leadership can plot a path moving forward “as the public has entrusted us to do.”

A passionately-discussed police chief selection process is ongoing and a city budget with significant fiscal challenges is under construction.

“Clearly, we have our work cut out for us, the mayor and city council,” Mr. Christiansen said.

Or, as Councilman David Anderson put it, “It is inconvenient that so much change is occurring simultaneously, but change also provides opportunities.

“You can be assured that your government will continue to function satisfactorily. It is unusual to have three top positions open at the same time, but the bench is deep in the City of Dover.”

Offering a message to city residents, Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. said, “During this time of transition and change you must trust your council representatives to have your district’s best interest, and in return, we will lead this great City of Dover with honesty, integrity and transparency as we conduct public business.”

With Mr. Koenig gone and Mr. Hosfelt perhaps leaving soon, two of the original five members of the city’s police chief search committee could be missing.

This week, officials said interim city manager Donna Mitchell (the city controller/treasurer) will likely join the committee, along with a new city council member if applicable.

Regarding Ms. Mitchell’s ascension for now, Mr. Hosfelt said “I don’t have any concerns on how she is going to step in and assume the city manager’s role.

“Donna understands the city and finances as well as any city employee we have.”

Echoed City Councilman Brian Lewis, ”I don’t have too many concerns as far as the ongoing budget formation for the City of Dover …

“I have trust in Ms. Mitchell’s years of expertise and experience in finance and expect her to come back with a favorable budget this year.”

At the last meeting, Mr. Lewis asked Ms. Mitchell if she could handle serving as acting city manager and finance director.

“She replied she could,” Mr. Lewis said. “The city council then signaled its full support to Ms. Mitchell.”

Assistant City Manager Kirby A. Hudson’s staff position was unchanged.

City staff ‘professionalism’

Although Mr. Anderson is “concerned about the timing impacting the budget preparation by stretching the staff,” his worry “is greatly reduced because I have tremendous confidence in Mrs. Donna Mitchell. She has been integrally involved as a partner in the budget preparation the last five years.

“Mr. Koenig gave us enough advance notice that we were able to transfer the responsibility for budget preparation to her.

“It is an example of the professionalism of city staff. The changes will not be easy, but they will not be disruptive. The team of Mitchell and Hudson will ensure the transition works.”

Councilman Fred Neil believes the city has enough quality staff remaining to meet challenges ahead.

“As an optimist, through my tears over losing both Scott and Ann Marie, I can see a tear blurred silver lining,” he said.

The selection Chairman Mr. Christiansen, City Council President Tim Slavin and Human Resources Director Kim Hawkins remain on the police search team.

An attempt to reach Mr. Slavin via e-mail on Friday was not immediately successful.

Addressing Mr. Hosfelt’s possible vacancy, Mr. Sudler suggested that, if needed, Councilman Bill Hare should take his selection committee seat due to his law enforcement and long council tenure.

Per city council mandate approved unanimously in June 2015, the police selection committee consists of the mayor, city manager, human resources director, city council president and council chairman of safety advisory and transportation committee.

While Mr. Hosfelt makes no assumptions about his vote total next week, a move to Levy Court would happen sooner rather than later.

“I believe Levy Court wants to move forward with it pretty quickly if I’m fortunate enough to join it,” he said on Friday. “I’m not sure how my transition would work and I would make sure I was following city policy and procedures regarding my resignation.”

Even as his candidacy neared culmination with decision day looming, Mr. Hosfelt continued to focus his attention toward ongoing city council concerns.

Already on the public safety committee along with Mr. Hutchison, Mr. Lewis — a former police officer in Washington, D.C. — said the council president has the duty of choosing a new chairman if needed.

“I would have no objection to serving as the new chairman but again that is the city council president’s decision,” Mr. Lewis said.

Evaluating the candidates

For now, Mr. Lewis is awaiting any candidate presentation from the mayor in the coming weeks.

“My duty right now is at the end of the process to either vote ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on the final candidate that the selection committee puts forth,” he said.

Mr. Anderson said the police department “leadership team is doing a fine job.

“The search should produce results over the next month and the selection process will enter the interview phase. I expect a nominee to be announced before the end of May.”

The city stopped accepting applications for police chief on Friday, and he hoped the selection committee would meet soon to discuss the resumes.

As far as what interest in the open position has been shown so far, Mr. Hosfelt said, “I don’t have a clue on how many applications have been received and purposely stayed away from receiving any information about how the process was going to make sure I showed no bias when it comes to analyzing candidates.”

Similarly, Mr. Christiansen said “as far as the number of applications go, I can’t answer that. I haven’t kept on top of it.”

The mayor hopes the committee can start search deliberations within a week to 10 days. He said the meeting would be held in closed executive sessions due to the personnel nature of the candidate review.

Pointing to the selection committee process approved unanimously by city council, Mr. Christiansen vowed to team with other members to find the best candidate in what’s a national search. Ultimately, the mayor will make the final decision on who to present before council for approval.

Earlier, Mr. Christiansen said he hoped to have a new police chief in place by the end of April. Deputy Chief Maj. Marvin Mailey has taken the top police command position in the interim before a choice.

In paying tribute to what he described as Ms. Townshend’s sterling service for Dover, Mr. Hosfelt also said, “I know she did a fine job getting her staff read to handle this and I know there’s good people who are ready to step up.”

Saying the same was Mr. Sudler. who maintained, “Mr. Koenig and Mrs. Townsend were a powerhouse with knowledge and experience between both of them that was untouchable and unmatched.

“But, through their administrative leadership and effective support staff system, both senior department heads have left us with impeccable in house staff members that can not only fill their positions, but if given the chance to be promoted within the City are forecast in my observation to perform at a higher efficiency rate exceeding their predecessors accomplishments.”

Tracking the projects

Ms. Townshend, who accepted an offer to become the Town of Lewes’ city manager, will serve Dover through March 31 before ending an 11-year stint.

“Losing Ann Marie came as a surprise,” Mr. Neil said. “I had great confidence in her.

“I know her dedication to city but this is a step up in the managerial ring and I can only wish her well. She will serve Lewes well.”

When announcing his departure at the city council meeting, Mr. Koenig did not disclose his future plans. He worked with the city for 27 years.

At a Jan. 6 council meeting Mr. Neil suggested creating a “scoreboard” of ongoing city projects.

“It would show everything the city is working on,” he said. “This includes projects and complaints, etc. When did it start? When is item schedule to be completed and when was it completed?

“This will allow the new administrators to self evaluate, and the elected officials to oversee whats done and what needs to be done.”

• At 10 a.m. next Thursday at City Hall, Dover’s Ethics Commission will recess into executive session to discuss an undisclosed complaint. The meeting is not open to the public based on Delaware Code regarding “Any personnel, medical, or pupil file, the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion or personal privacy, under this legislation or any state or federal law as it relates to personal privacy.”

Upon adjournment, the ethics commission could possibly take action based on its evaluation of the complaint.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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