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Council Suprised by Mayor's Screening Process - Police Chief Candidate Forum Tuesday

There’s concern about the process City of Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly used to review applicants vying to be the city’s next police chief. During a city council meeting last night, there were public comments critical of a process that screened out some applicants prior to the interview stage. Mayor Matherly explained a step in the process, in which Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer and consultant Greg Russel screened applications.  

"They reviewed the 18 applications we got. We got 18 of them, and the reviewed every resume for minimum and preferred experience and qualifications."

Matherly said Mercer and Russel selected 10 candidates to be interviewed by a local review committee. The panel ultimately selected 5 finalists for participation in a public forum scheduled for tonight. Although the council was sent a memo about the process on January 25, Council member Valerie Therrien took issue with the mayor’s lack of  transparency about the screening process.           

"You never advised us that there would be two people that would be deselecting individuals to be interveiwed by the committee."

Therien said the situation is especially concerning because 2 local candidates were among those screened out prior to the interview stage. Fellow council members June Rogers said she’s received a lot of public feedback about the issue.      

So many letters and calls from people who are concerned; it doesn't bode well for us."

Rogers joined Therrien is suggesting the police chief hiring process be paused. Council members Aaron Gibson and Jim Clark underscored that both the mayor and council have roles in the hiring process. Here’s Clark…  

"He has that right to chose who he wants for Police Chief, and we have, as a council, the right to either agree with him or send him back to the drawing board."

The finalists for the police chief job include 2 internal applicants: acting City Police Chief Rick Sweet, and Acting Deputy Chief Ron Dupee. The other 3 are from outside the state: Koula (KOO-lah) Black is a major with the Mocksville, North Carolina Police Department, Derek Bos (boss) is Police Chief of Brush, Colorado, and Todd Richardson is a sherrif’s deputy in Beaver County Utah.

The city’s Diversity Council is hosting tonight’s public forum for the 5 police chief finalists. City spokeswoman Teal Soden (SOH-dn) says it will be similar to the last time the city hired a police chief.

“This is the way for the applicants to introduce themselves to the community, and for the community to hear them answer a few questions provided by the Fairbanks Diversity Council .”?

All 5 candidates will answer 2 questions sent to them yesterday, followed by additional questions not provided in advance. Soden says the questions were written by the Fairbanks Diversity Council.

“Some of the questions are specifically about diversity, and so we thought that they would be the best ones to think about what they would like to see in a police chief. And also the Fairbanks Diversity Council covers many sectors of our community, and we wanted them to participate as well.”

The Tuesday 5:30 PM public forum will be held in the City Council Chambers but can also be accessed via Zoom, and heard on the city website and KFBX AM radio. After the forum, members of the interview panel will deliberate and recommend a candidate to the Mayor.