Change in selection of chiefs suggested

By Micah Panczyk Record-Courier staff writer Published:

The Ravenna Charter Review Commission is considering a proposal that would allow city officials to seek candidates for police and fire chief from outside those city departments.

Because the city's charter provides no guidelines for hiring these officials, Ravenna must follow a state provision requiring the city to hire from within the ranks, according to Law Director Frank Cimino, who recently brought this restriction to the commission's attention.

At issue is whether the merits of internal promotion hiring a candidate who has gained an intimate understanding of a department's needs and nuances, for example are worth its limitations.

If the charter commission decides on a change in the selection of the safety forces' chiefs, the measure would have to be placed on the ballot by Ravenna City Council and approved by city voters.

Discussion of the selection process may have been spurred, in part, by the present personnel situation in the fire and police departments.

The fire department currently is headed by an interim chief, Capt. Jim DiPaola, who recently was named to head the department, which has been without a chief since Larry Shafer retired in January because of health problems.

Police Chief Michael Swartout was suspended in late December amid allegations of misconduct and Capt. Randall McCoy is serving as acting police chief.

"In my opinion, the city should consider broadening the pool of candidates for these positions," Cimino said. "It seems only sensible to provide as much latitude as we can when selecting for positions as significant as these."

Internal promotion, however, is not without merit, said City Council President Kevin Poland.

"Hiring from within promotes a sense of loyalty and rewards personnel for their persistence and longevity within these departments," he said. "There's really something to be said for this. We have, and have had, excellent personnel in the police and fire departments to choose from, but internal promotion doesn't guarantee we hire the best possible candidate.

" We should gather opinions from personnel within these departments and considering the possibility of broadening our field," Poland said.

A charter amendment is necessary to revise the city's selection process because council cannot pass legislation contrary to state code, Cimino said.

The Charter Review Commission convenes every five years to examine the city's charter and propose amendments in considers necessary. The commission must submit its proposals for council's consideration by July 1. Those proposals that gain council's consent will come before voters in November.

"We haven't really examined this question yet," said Janet Hayes, the commission's chairwoman. "My initial feeling is that the city ought to allow itself to look outside its own ranks, but I may be the only member of the commission who feels this way. We'll have to wait and see."

A extensive case for allowing police departments to hire externally was made by Dan FitzPatrick, a personnel assessor with the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police and a member of the Kent State University Police Department.

FitzPatrick contends that police departments are cultures in themselves and that members of these cultures are less likely than a "newcomer" to view them objectively.

"An internal candidate _ one who has risen through the ranks and has, in fact made contributions to the department's culture _ this candidate is more likely to say 'It's worked well for me ... so why change?' ," he said. "An external eye is simply better able to view a department more objectively."

FitzPatrick noted that a city in no way dismisses its own personnel when allowing itself to seek external candidates. If there is a fair selection process, then an internal candidate would rise to supremacy if he were indeed more qualified than his peers, he said.

"We kid ourselves when we say we must hire from within our ranks,"

FitzPatrick said. "If we are so confident in internal candidates, then

we should not fear putting them to the test."

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