UPDATE: Columbia names 5 finalists for police chief

nophillips@thestate.comFebruary 10, 2014 

Updated story (3 p.m. Feb. 11): Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson has announced the five finalists for the city's new police chief, and the list does not include interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago.

The five candidates will take part in a three-day assessment process that includes Wilson, the police chief search committee, community stakeholders panel and citizens.

The finalists are:

Tony Fisher, the former director of public safety for Spartanburg;

William Holbrook, police chief in Huntington, W.Va.;

Bryan Norwood, former police chief in Richmond, Va.;

Charles Rapp, executive director of the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions;

Gregory Reese, chief of security forces for Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.

Interim chief Ruben Santiago, who has led the department since April, issued a statement to say it has been a privilege to lead the department.

The list of candidates for the chief's job was impressive and it was an exciting time for the department.

"No matter who is ultimately chosen, we still have a job to do for the citizens of Columbia. I look forward to being a part of the new team. I stand firmly beside the men and women of the Police Department, both sworn and non-sworn."

Original story:The pool of candidates for Columbia’s next police chief has been narrowed to five finalists, but the names have not been released.

Robert Bolchoz, chairman of a five-member search committee, said Monday the names had been given to City Manager Teresa Wilson. Wilson and the city’s human resources manager were making arrangements to bring the finalists to Columbia for interviews, he said.

The lengthy search for the city’s eighth police chief in seven years has at times been controversial. The city manager and mayor have disagreed over how to conduct the search. Meanwhile, many people in the community have lobbied Wilson to hire the man who has been running the department as interim chief since April.

Tension about the search mounted over the weekend as word spread that a list of finalists had been named and as people speculated who would be on the list.

Bolchoz declined to name the finalists, saying it was up to Wilson and Pam Benjamin, the city’s human resources manager. Benjamin is not related to the mayor.

“I’d rather let them do that,” Bolchoz said. “I’d feel bad jumping them on that.”

But he added, “It’s an impressive group.”

Leisha Utsey, the city’s public information officer, said there were no immediate plans to release the list. The list has not been discussed between the human resources manager and the city manager, Utsey said.

The pending ice storm also could delay the release, she said.

Under state law, the city must release the names of finalists as long as there are three or more people on the list. Throughout the search, Wilson has said she would be transparent and would released the finalists’ names.

Utsey and Bolchoz said the city manager and human resources manager needed time to make travel arrangements and plan schedules for the finalists.

The police department has been operating under interim chief Ruben Santiago since April. For months, Wilson and City Council said they were content to let Santiago run the department even after one of his former captains accused him of corruption. Santiago has denied the allegations.

In November, Wilson changed directions and announced she was launching a national search for a new chief. She released a timeline for the process with the goal of having a new chief in place by mid-March.

She used the city’s human resources staff to advertise the position and recruit candidates, and she withstood pressure from Mayor Steve Benjamin, who wanted her to hire a professional search firm.

Wilson organized the five-person search committee to help select candidates from the pool of 50 applicants. City Council appointed a stakeholders committee to vet the finalists.

Meanwhile, there is a groundswell of support for Santiago.

At a Jan. 23 meeting of the search and stakeholders committees, several people tried to speak in favor of Santiago. But Bolchoz asked them to sit down, saying the committee had received plenty of letters, emails and phone calls in support of the chief.

No one would confirm Santiago’s status Monday. Efforts to reach Santiago were unsuccessful.

Over the weekend, word spread that finalists had been chosen, and it was a conversation about Santiago’s chances of becoming chief that stirred emotions.

Former mayoral candidate Larry Sypolt said he talked with Bolchoz at a Devine Street bar Thursday night about the search and whether Santiago would be included. The discussion became heated, said Sypolt, who said he supports Santiago.

Sypolt said he ended the conversation with the understanding that Santiago was not a finalist.

But Monday, Bolchoz declined to talk about Santiago or any other candidate.

“I haven’t told anybody who the finalists are,” he said. “I don’t have the authority to pick them myself.”

Meanwhile, the investigation into the alleged corruption remains open.

The State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI sent their reports to 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson.

But Johnson, a former Richland County Sheriff’s deputy who worked with Santiago, removed himself from the case and sent the report to another solicitor. That solicitor has not finished his review, Johnson said.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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