Dover police chief hiring process mired in politics, personalities

Robin Christiansen

DOVER — A tumultuous promotion process cost the city dearly in 2014.

Five police officers received a combined $300,000 payout from Dover due to racial discrimination claims after the appointment of African-American Maj. Marvin Mailey to second-in-charge deputy chief.

Also, the city paid Cpl. Thomas W. Webster IV $230,000 in a separation agreement after he was acquitted of assault regarding a jawbreaking kick to a suspect during an August 2013 arrest.

In 2015, Dover paid a $15,000 insurance deductible to wounded suspect Lateef Dickerson as part of a $300,000 lawsuit settlement.

The current search for retired Chief Paul Bernat’s replacement has triggered potential civil liability concerns once again, some say.

Roy Sudler Jr.

The saga also involves several testy public exchanges between city and state elected officials.

Relationships between police and the African-American community are in the equation and the new chief selection ‑— whoever he or she is — will come with racial overtones.

Councilman Roy Sudler believes Mayor Robin R. Christiansen’s earlier comments about a possible candidate should disqualify him from selecting a new police chief.

Perturbed by what he believed was over-aggressive campaigning for Deputy Chief Maj. Marvin Mailey by state representative and former city councilman Sean Lynn, Mr. Sudler and others, the mayor told police at a staff meeting on Jan. 9, 2017 he believed the candidacy was “tarnished.”

Mr. Christiansen confirmed his remarks and said he was “angry at the time,” but believes a transparent and fair process to pick a chief is underway through a five-member selection committee.

The mayor regrets his behavior at the meeting, and stressed that the ongoing search is open and without bias to all candidates.

“I apologized for maybe not being as gentlemanly as I should have been,” he said on Thursday.

“I think anyone who understands the situation would understand my frustration. It appeared there was already some internal interference right from the start.”

According to meeting minutes, Mr. Christiansen “stated he was angered by the statements and/or posts made by Sean Lynn on Facebook and then subsequent sharing and posts by members of the Dover Police Department. …

“He stated he would not be swayed in his selection process and that everyone probably already knew what his initial selection was going to be that he had respect for him and he was qualified, but now, because of the Facebook posts and the press conference, that person was now tarnished.”

The minutes indicated that “Mayor Christiansen entered the room clearly angry (he stated the women in the room could leave as he was going to use foul language.)”

Two women in the room reportedly opted to remain and a third “came in after this announcement.”

According to Mr. Lynn, “The City should understand that when it permits its leader to hold meetings only men may attend because the cursing is too thick for sensitive folks – like women – it reveals its dysfunctional truths.”

Two years earlier, Mr. Christiansen advocated forming a selection committee after the costly police chief hire in 2014, which was unanimously approved by city council in June 2015.

“In order for us as elected officials representing the public’s interest to retain the confidence of the community we serve, I think it’s vitally important to follow to the letter city ordinance that has been put in place,” he said.

“To do anything else would be irresponsible and a grave dereliction of our duties.”

In a Facebook post last Sunday responding to claims by his so-called critics,  Mr. Christiansen said “As mayor it is my intent to follow the ordinance to the letter of the law.

“I made a solemn pledge to each of you as taxpayers and citizens to perform this responsibility with honesty and fidelity. I will do so despite bullying, threats, false accusations and innuendos.

“Unlike others, I have not faltered on a transparent, non biased process.”

Mr. Christiansen identified his supposed critics as Mr. Lynn, Mr. Sudler, City Council President Tim Slavin and councilman David Anderson in the post.

According to city ordinance the mayor has final say on which candidate to present before city council after consultation with a selection committee that he chairs,

Even a perceived bias against a candidate could possibly be grounds for legal action against the city, Mr. Sudler maintains.

The city will advertise the chief’s position until March 17, and the mayor hopes for a candidate selection by the end of April.

What happens next?

Mr. Sudler called for the mayor to resign at a selection committee meeting on Feb. 14, and expressed his concerns to Mr. Slavin in a letter three days later.

While he’s traded verbal jabs with Mr. Christiansen before on different topics, Mr. Sudler said, “I want (the community) to know that I have no malice towards the mayor and I truly forgive him for trying to offend me, for my only concern is doing the best Job that I can for my constituents as 4th District Councilman.”

In the absence of a recusal, Mr. Sudler believes city council should press the issue to protect city assets and assure a fair search. A regularly scheduled city council meeting awaits on Monday night at City Hall, with no police chief selection item on the agenda.

“I’m not giving up on this, I’m taking it all the way to the top,” Mr. Sudler said.

Mr. Sudler said any one of council members Bill Hare, James Hutchison or Brian Lewis could fill the mayor’s spot adequately. Mr. Hutchison was formerly Dover PD’s chief, and Mr. Lewis served as a Washington, D.C. police officer. Mr. Hare was a former sheriff.

Earlier this week, Mr. Christiansen said he has no intention of stepping away from the committee, which also includes Mr. Slavin, Councilman Jim Hosfelt, City Manager Scott Koenig and Human Resources Director Kim Hawkins.

If the mayor departs the committee, Mr. Sudler believes council president Mr. Slavin would make the final choice for a replacement after consultation with the selection committee.

On Jan. 10, Mr. Christiansen announced that Deputy Chief Maj. Mailey would lead the police department in absence of a police chief. He vowed at the time not to be influenced by external factors while maintaining integrity and openness during the search.

An initial job description draft adding a college bachelor’s degree requirement for the first time ever was not adopted, but Mr. Sudler and Mr. Lynn believe the possible addition was intended to thwart Maj. Mailey’s candidacy. The job description last revised in 2009 is in effect.

Ms. Hawkins said the job description draft was pulled together from a variety of sources reflecting the current market for a police chief, unofficial and open for discussion.

On Jan. 9, Mr. Lynn and others made a Facebook post plea to Mr. Christiansen, asking that he immediately appoint Maj. Mailey as the new police chief.
“We are deeply concerned about any hesitation in appointing Deputy Chief Mailey as our next Chief, and absolutely condemn any efforts and gamesmanship or politics that would preclude the appointment of Dover’s first African-American Chief of Police,” the post read.

The post was also endorsed by Mr. Sudler, State Rep. Andria Bennett, Revs. and Pastors Rita Paige, Michael Rogers, Dr. John G. Moore Sr., Makeeda Brooks, Ellis Louden, Anthony Wallace, and Mark D. Harmon, CVC Community Voice Coalition Executive Director Aaron Appling, Dover Interfaith Mission for the Homeless Vice Chairman Herb Konowitz and community activist Gregory Bunkley.

According to meeting minutes from Jan. 9, Mr. Christiansen stated “it would be a violation of his orders if anyone tried to influence his decision.

“He mentioned that he had hired a private attorney to make sure he was covered in case someone came after him (notated that he had nothing to sue for.)”

The mayor indicated that no interim chief would be appointed “and that chain of command would be followed. …”

Mr. Christiansen concluded his “speech, … stood and slammed the door upon his exit,” according to the recap.

According to the transcriber, “multiple use of foul words” were left out of the staff meeting report.

Mr. Lynn claimed the post came due to concerns that a selection process had already been tainted by the revised job description draft he believed only city council can alter, along with a supposed intent to name an interim chief.

He and the others were concerned by a reported national search for candidates when they believed in the strength of Maj. Mailey’s candidacy.

“The city continues to struggle with a lack of diversity and inclusion, according to the post, and a delay in appointing Maj. Mailey perpetuated the issues.

“Most troubling to the below signatories is that such a search is not only unprecedented, but, alarmingly, surrounds the possible appointment of Dover’s first African-American Chief of Police,” according to Mr. Lynn’s post.

Mr. Sudler said there was “miscommunication” regarding his inclusion in the message, and he believed in moving Maj. Mailey forward as a candidate while letting the selection process run its course. He and the Rev. Paige hosted a press conference in front of the police department touting the candidacy on Jan. 10.

Mr. Christiansen cautioned against conducting a limited internal search, and noted the nationwide scope of other police department job recruitments. By avoiding a “parochial” approach and considering outside candidates, a deeper talent pool to choose from is available, the mayor said. He also acknowledged that the Dover Police force has multiple top cop prospects already on staff.

On Thursday, Mr. Christiansen said one of his critics should concentrate efforts addressing ongoing state woes such as the budget deficit and prison system and allow the mayor to lead the search committee process.

Asked if he was referring to Mr. Lynn, the mayor responded “It sure sounds like it.”

According to Mr. Lynn, Deputy Chief Mailey “isn’t the one who’s ‘tarnished.’“

Questioned on who he believed was “tarnished,” Mr. Lynn answered, “I think the inference is clear.”

Sequence of events

Then-Police Chief Bernat attached a retirement letter in an e-mail at 12:21 p.m. on Dec. 20, 2016, but said “I will officially announce my retirement and send the Mayor an official letter on January 3, 2017.”

Mr. Christiansen and Human Resources Director Ms. Hawkins were copied on Mr. Bernat’s Dec. 20 e-mail. Ms. Hawkins forwarded the e-mail to City Manager Mr. Koenig within 39 minutes, saying “FYI- Official announcement forthcoming. Shhhhh ….”

Later that afternoon, Ms. Hawkins referenced a requested meeting by the mayor regarding the police chief job posting.

In a Dec. 27, 2016, e-mail, Ms. Hawkins revealed the ongoing police chief recruitment to attorney William Bowser of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, asking if he knew of any organizations that had recently made a hire. Mr. Bowser responded “Both New Castle and the City of Wilmington will be looking.”

Nineteen minutes later, Chief Bernat sent Ms. Hawkins an iPhone e-mail with an indeed.com link to several police chief job openings posted nationally.

On the same day, Ms. Hawkins e-mailed the City of Milford seeking tips related to their recent police chief hire, and asked where recruitment advertisements were made.

A Milford city employee responded that city council made the hire directly and forwarded the inquiry to city clerk. The clerk’s office confirmed a nationwide search and said she would be “glad to help out” and “will send you copies of everything …”

Later in the day, Ms. Hawkins checked with Milford on their police chief’s annual salary ($97,167.43) and number of officers on the force (32), and civilians (18).

Milford sent its announcement that was provided to all Delaware Police Chief’s Council members and Maryland Association of Chiefs.

Ms. Hawkins was informed that Newark PD had 71 officers and the chief’s current salary was $117,299. A pay grade minimum and maximum range was also provided.

Also on Dec. 27, Ms. Hawkins checked with Jeffrey Horvath to learn the process and costs associated with posting a listing on the DPCC’s website.
An e-mail returned from the Town of Middletown indicated the police chief made $96,676.80, with 34 officers and four civilian employees on staff.
Seaford responded on the same day, noting its police chief was currently making $100,000 to oversee an approved force of 27. Minimum and maximum pay range was also provided.

On Dec. 28, 2016, Mr. Horvath indicated that the city could not incur costs for posting a job listing online with the DPCC and encouraged Ms. Hawkins to send any information.

The next day, Dec. 29, Ms. Hawkins emailed Mr. Bernat requesting any suggestions he might have in identifying a successor.

“For example, any knowledge, skills and abilities that you believe are truly necessary to be successful,” Ms. Hawkins wrote.

“Perhaps the next Chief needs a skill set that you didn’t need to possess however due to changes in the industry will be needed in the near future. Where do you see the future of policing going and what skills will be needed to get there.”

Identifying a candidate

Responding to a media request on Jan. 4, 2017, Mr. Koenig reported that the police chief’s current salary was $2,438.40 weekly and the deputy chief made $2,167.60.

That same day, Ms. Hawkins told Mr. Koenig that she had found no police chief positions posted on the International City/County Management Association’s website.

On Jan. 5, Ms. Hawkins asked Mr. Koenig for any changes or comments needed for a draft offer letter to an interim police chief. A letter was attached to the e-mail in a docx format.

Police Chief Selection Committee members received a memorandum from Ms. Hawkins on Jan. 6, 2017 that included a draft version of the job posting with revisions to the current description of the position.

Committee member input was welcomed.

“The Mayor respectfully requests any suggestions or comments regarding either be provided to him and myself by Monday, Jan. 9, 2017,” Ms. Hawkins wrote.

The city planned to advertise the position through:

• The Delaware Justice Information System

• Delaware League of Local Government

• Sussex County Association of Towns

• Police Executive Research Forum

• Police Chief’s Council

• International Association of Chief of Police

• National Black Police Association (www.blackpolice.org).

• The City’s normal recruitment avenues (Dover Post, Delaware State News, News Journal, Facebook, etc.).

On Jan. 9, committee member Councilman Jim Hosfelt suggested consideration of prior military service and indicated a preference for a chief with a strong information technology or information systems background.

Responding to a query from Ms. Hawkins, Mr. Hosfelt confirmed that the IT or IS background was needed due to an increasing use of technology in police work, including body cameras, dash cams, drones, etc. The e-mail was copied to Mr. Christiansen.

In an e-mail to City Council President Mr. Slavin on Jan. 10, Ms. Hawkins referenced the mayor’s request to begin recruitment at the end of the week in an email copied to Mr. Christiansen, Mr. Koenig, Mr. Hosfelt, and Traci McDowell of the city clerk’s office.

Mr. Slavin responded less than an hour later with “I feel that proceeding in the manner you suggested may be a violation of FOIA, as we are a legally constituted public body and can not meet serially via email. …

Focused on keeping the “process open and transparent,” Mr. Slavin said he directed the city clerk to schedule a selection committee meeting for Jan. 18.

“This will allow the meeting notice to meet the required 7-day notice for a public meeting,” he said.

The council president asked Ms. McDowell to “send a copy of this email chain to all members of the Council in order to keep them informed of the status of this matter.”

Ms. Hawkins asked Mr. Koenig and Ms. McDowell for “guidance on what defines a serially meeting” and reported her unavailability for a Jan. 18 meeting due to meeting with a “FMCS” trainer. She also indicated that Mr. Koenig was also scheduled for the training and that “He may elect to attend the meeting.”

Public meetings, delays

The police chief selection committee meeting schedule for Jan. 18 was posted on the city’s website on Jan. 11. On Jan. 17, the meeting was rescheduled for Jan. 25 in the City Hall conference room.

The draft advertisement was mistakenly published by the Delaware State News after the city provided it for a price quote only on Jan. 11. The listing was also posted on Monster.com before it was deleted.

Via e-mail, Mr. Slavin alerted Mr. Koenig and Mr. Christiansen to the error on Jan. 18.

The information was intended only as a discussion point for the selection committee at its next meeting, and nothing had been made official, Mr. Koenig told Mr. Slavin. The Delaware State News apologized to the city for the error in an e-mail on Jan. 18.

Mr. Slavin asked that all related e-mails, letters and correspondence between city staff and media outlets be collected, which Mr. Koenig confirmed was ongoing. Mr. Slavin received a PDF of the documents from Mr. Koenig on Jan. 19.

A scheduling conflict postponed the selection committee meeting on Jan. 25 and it was rescheduled for Feb. 1.

On Feb. 1, Councilman David Anderson expressed concern to Mr. Koenig that a position description for hiring the last two police chiefs was not in a packet in advance of the meeting.

The first selection meeting open to the public on Feb. 1 went two hours and included several intense back and forth exchanges between committee members, along with Mr. Sudler.

The committee was chided by at least one citizen when opportunity for public comments was offered.

George Gaudioso spoke twice before the committee, leaving before the meeting ended with a “disgusted” feeling.

“When I came to this meeting I was actually hopeful that this could be done properly,” Mr. Gaudioso said. “This committee was established to make a determination to set up the criteria and make recommendations to the mayor, who then would present them to the council.

“… [T]hat sounds so easy. Sitting here listening to this banter going back and forth … to me it’s nothing but a bunch of bull—-. I’m embarrassed. I am absolutely embarrassed by what’s taken place here.”

The job description draft was referenced at the Feb. 1 meeting, and the selection committee adjourned without making any changes. At the next meeting on Feb. 14 that lasted just a few minutes, the committee opted to stick with the current job requirements last revised in 2009.

Maj. Mailey, Capt. Tim Stump and Capt. Dave Spicer all attended both selection committee meetings, offering polite greetings to the media and making comments.

Pointing to what he believes was an violation of city code, Mr. Lynn said, “When circulating the revised job description for approval, there was never a suggestion that the approval would be published on a later council agenda for a vote.”

At the first meeting, selection committee member Mr. Slavin unsuccessfully attempted to introduce Maj. Mailey as a candidate. The motion received no support from the four other committee members.

Former police chief and councilman Jim Hosfelt referenced what he believed was “grandstanding” at the committee meeting and uttered “For God sakes, let’s follow the process here once in a while.”

Mr. Christiansen maintained on Thursday that the motion was out of step with the selection committee’s process.

Mr. Slavin denied any grandstanding had taken place. On Friday, he explained that “My motion also did not eliminate any other candidate from consideration.”

Regarding the motion’s intent, Mr. Slavin said, “I put the motion forward because I believe it is a logical conclusion that the man who has done the job of deputy chief of police for three years – and done so … effectively – would logically be considered one of the candidates forwarded to the mayor for his consideration.”

Later that day, Ms. Hawkins sent documents to city council and selection committee members including a draft of proposed changes to the chief of police requirements and a current job description. Ms. McDowell emailed the city clerk’s office that “In order to prevent a serial meeting, please to not respond to, nor discuss this information with a quorum of Council or any committee.”

On Thursday, Rep. Lynn described the ongoing selection process as a “charade” and teeming with potential civil lawsuit possibilities at its conclusion.

“It seems that the City has set itself on a path designed to revisit … hard learned lessons,” Mr. Lynn said.

“I, and many others behind me, cannot sit by idly as the City, through negligence or ineptitude, or corruption, or simply the clumsy handling of such a delicate and vital matter [the appointment of our next Chief of Police], careen wildly towards another litigation, expensive judgments or settlements, dishonor, division and discord.

“Moreover, we will not allow the relationship between the City and African-American community, which we have worked so hard to repair, foster and maintain, to once again be imperiled.”

The mayor took a far different tact in this Facebook post, saying, “When this is complete, Dover WILL have the best qualified Chief of Police to head our department and community into the future and maintain those most sacred tenants of our country, liberty and justice for all.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.