Ravenna chiefs differ on city's hiring policy

By Micah Panczyk Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Ravenna Police Chief Michael Swartout and Interim Fire Chief Jim DiPaola disagree on whether the city should look outside of the two Ravenna departments to hire for police and fire chief positions.

The two were among several who commented on the city's current in-house restriction at a meeting of the Ravenna Charter Review Commission Monday.

Because the city's charter provides no guidelines for hiring the chiefs, Ravenna must follow a state provision requiring the city to hire from within its ranks, according to Law Director Frank Cimino, who first brought the issue to the commission's attention last month.

At issue is whether the merits of internal promotion _ elevating candidates who may have gained an intimate understanding of a department's needs and nuances, for example _ are worth its restriction.

DiPaola defended the restriction requiring fire chiefs to be promoted from within.

"It's important in a smaller city such as ours that we hire from within," DiPaola said. "An insider gains the subtle understanding of his department that is essential to managing it effectively."

Chiefs in smaller departments are less removed from the details of micro-management than are their colleagues in larger departments, where a more elaborate chain-of-command allows a chief to delegate responsibilities more readily, DiPaola said. The command of a smaller department's non-trivial details is gained only from observing and experiencing them, he said.

However, Swartout said he believes people outside the department should be considered.

"I don't think you lose anything by opening candidacy to officers outside the (police) department," said Swartout, who was suspended with pay from his duties due to allegations of his misconduct at an "off-duty Christmas party" in Rootstown Dec. 4. "Competition certainly doesn't hurt anyone."

The city also should consider the virtue of assessment centers, which offer a battery of tests that allow a city to measure its candidates "holistically," Swartout said.

Historically, the city has chosen among candidates based on their respective scores on a civil service test, an exam evaluating one's knowledge of policing and management. In addition to taking these tests, however, Swartout's class of candidates was reviewed by an assessment center, he said.

"The question of whether or not one test is an accurate indicator of one's ability has generated a lot of debate," Swartout said. "Assessments are important in that they motivate candidates to read and train themselves as officers. You can't just sit around and acquire seniority."

By placing candidates in circumstances that reflect those they would face as department chiefs, "assessment centers" attempt to measure a candidate's less tangible qualities, such as his ability to empathize and build consensus among peers, said Dan FitzPatrick, an assessor with the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police and a member of the Kent State University Police Department.

In addition, assessors conduct an in-depth study of a department's priorities, value system and mission, and try to define characteristics essential to succeed as a chief in such a department, he said. These studies inform an assessment center's recommendation, he said.

At present, neither city charter nor ordinances allude to the use of assessment centers in selecting chiefs, Cimino said previously.

Ravenna restricts candidacy for fire chief to its three captains, each of whom must take a civil service test designed to assess his knowledge of management and fire-fighting, DiPaola said. The candidate who scores highest is automatically awarded the position, he said.

These criteria in themselves justify internal promotion, said Fire Capt. Martin Dix.

"Because we strictly follow (the results of) the civil service test, we really need to know our candidates well," he said, noting that an external candidate might do better than his colleagues in a written test but lack other characteristics required to be an effective leader. By promoting internally, the city minimizes this risk, he said.

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