Columbia city manager announces police chief search committee

nophillips@thestate.comNovember 27, 2013 

— City Manager Teresa Wilson announced Wednesday the formation of a police chief search committee to help choose the city’s next top law enforcement officer.

In announcing the committee members, Wilson said she wants to have an open and equitable search for a new chief to lead the Columbia Police Department. The five-member panel is expected to help narrow the pool of candidates who will be interviewed and to help with the interviews, she said.

“As this process unfolds we will continue to operate openly and in the best interest of this community at large,” Wilson said. “ The selection of a police chief for our great city is a critical decision, and I will continue to work diligently to make sure that all appropriate measures are taken to select a candidate that meets the needs of the people and the officers of the Columbia Police Department who so nobly serve us each and every day.”

All five search committee members have experience in law enforcement.

The chairman is Robert Bolchoz, a Columbia attorney who ran for state attorney general in 2010 and for City Council in 2012. Bolchoz is also a former prosecutor in Charleston and in the S.C. Attorney General’s Office.

The other members are:

• Patty Patterson, former Sumter Police Department chief who now serves as Sumter’s public safety and welfare office director

• Brian Lamkin, a retired FBI agent who now works as an investigator for the S.C. Inspector General

• Jon Ozmint, a former director of the S.C. Department of Corrections who has a private law practice in Columbia

• Anson Shells, a retired Florence Police Department chief who works as that city’s community relations commander

The city opened its search for a new chief Nov. 12, and the application deadline is Dec. 11. So far, the city has received 13 applications from across the country, including as far away as Washington, Texas and New Jersey, said Pamela Benjamin, the city’s human resources director. The job will pay $89,246 to $115,869 annually.

Wilson has said she hopes to have a new chief in place by mid-March.

The Columbia Police Department has been operating without a full-time chief since April when Randy Scott resigned. Since then, interim Chief Ruben Santiago has been running the department, which has 460 employees, including 385 officers.

Santiago has been under investigation since July when a former captain accused him of corruption. He has maintained his innocence.

During the summer, Wilson said she wanted to hold off the police chief search until the investigation was completed. She said City Council shared that position.

But she opened the search earlier this month, saying there was no end in sight to the investigation and she needed to move forward.

Santiago has said he will apply for the job, but there have been questions over whether he meets the qualifications listed in the city’s job posting. The job description says qualified candidates must have eight years of experience in a command position of captain or higher.

Santiago has six years’ experience in the upper ranks of law enforcement.

Wednesday, Benjamin, who is not related to Mayor Steve Benjamin, said candidates will be qualified based on the totality of their experience in law enforcement.

Meanwhile, the search for a new chief has been launched just as voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether Columbia should adopt a new form of government.

If voters approve the strong mayor referendum, then whoever is hired by Wilson could be working for Mayor Benjamin within weeks of taking job.

But Wilson said she did not consider waiting until after the referendum.

“We all hope we end up with an individual who is committed to this city and would be well received by this council, a strong mayor and a professional manager,” Wilson said. “It would be an individual that will stand the test of time, have some longevity and give our community what it so richly deserves.”

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