Olympia City Manager “still considering the options” on Next Police Chief

Burney expects to make a decision in the next few weeks on how to proceed

A week after “pausing” a botched search for a new city of Olympia police chief, the Olympia City Manager Jay Burney has not decided when the search will resume. He has determined that when it does, the firm that failed to find at least one finalist’s disciplinary record will not be involved.

“The City Manager is still considering the options for continuing the search process. We do know that, when we proceed, we will be moving forward with another search firm,” Kellie Purce Braseth, a spokeswoman for the city said Thursday, adding that the city expects to make a decision on next steps “in the next few weeks”. 

In Olympia, the city manager, not the city council, selects the police chief. That could be one explanation for the mayor’s and council members’ nearly total public silence on the matter.

Only one council member responded directly to The Olympia Tribune’s request for comment and subsequently published her thoughts on social media. Another council member used social media to express her views, as well.  

The imbroglio began last week when The Olympia Tribune brought the city’s attention to a posted report on one of the four finalists that said he had been reprimanded in 2017 by the Kalamazoo Michigan Police Department, where he was a sergeant, for violating that city’s use of force policy.

After City Manager Jay Burney paused the search, a local newspaper reported that another finalist, OPD Lt. Amy King, received two “written warnings,” in 2016, one after she pulled out her gun and pointed it into the air during a “briefing” and another having to do with monitoring a vehicular pursuit. King currently supervises the downtown walking patrol and neighborhood policing unit, among others. 

The two other finalists are Interim OPD Chief Aaron Jelcick and Anchorage Police Department Capt. Sean Case. Jelcick remains in the post while a decision is being made on how to proceed.

The city has paid $14,000 of its $40,000 agreement with Karras Consulting for the search. Braseth said Thursday afternoon the city will not make further payments on that agreement.

Renata Rollins, the council member who responded to The Tribune, said she’s shared with Burney that she thinks the search process should not be re-opened until the city’s planned Reimagining Public Safety community conversations have happened and after that community workgroup has presented its findings to the council and to the public.

“Hiring ahead of the public process circumvents community leadership, when we badly need our local communities to direct the future of public safety here,” she said. “On council we all say we want to “reimagine” public safety, but installing a commissioned officer as police chief is just more business as usual. It will stifle collective imagination, problem-solving and critical thinking. It will prevent modern and holistic 21st-century public safety models from receiving due consideration,” said Rollins, who is leaving the council in January after one term in office.

Another council member, Lisa Parshley, posted her thoughts on social media Tuesday afternoon before the City Council meeting, in which the search issue was not even mentioned, and the revelation about King.

Parshley, who is running for re-election, said in part: “Last week, our process came to a crashing halt due to a mistake made by the consultants hired to vet the applicants. One of our finalists turned out to have an incident in his past involving an illegal restraint and racist slurs. Let me be clear: this is an inexcusable mistake. I support our city manager’s decision to halt the hiring process. I have and will continue to advocate for a transparent and inclusive process as we move forward. The people of Olympia should continue to be involved every step of the way.”

Braseth said Burney “was very direct and clear with the previous search consultant about his expectations for vetting candidates, and he will emphasize that again with a new consultant.” Burney is exploring any additional search process checks and balances the city wants to put in place, she said.

Karras Consulting has done a number of recruitments for the city in the past, including its fire chief; city manager (Burney); strategic communications director (Braseth), and Parks, Arts and Recreation director. 

Documents obtained from the city Friday afternoon show it has paid Karras Consulting more than $103,000 in the past two years for work including the city manager and fire chief searches.

Under a “professional services agreement” signed with the firm in August 2019, the city agreed to pay $100,000 for executive recruitment services through December 2020; it subsequently amended the agreement to increase the amount to $300,000 and extended it through December 2022.

The Karras Consulting website says it currently is conducting searches for a new president for The Evergreen State College and the state Employment Security Department, which has been besieged with complaints about its handling of unemployment claims during the pandemic. The state’s Open Checkbook website shows state agencies have paid the firm nearly $775,000 since 2015. The long-established firm lists at least 100 clients, ranging from the state’s largest agency, the Department of Social and Health Services, to smaller, local government clients, but no law enforcement clients.

No specifics have been given on how the search process failed to turn up the issue regarding Turner. In a news release issued by the city, Karras said only: “There are no excuses from us. This was clearly an oversight on our part.”

Regarding background checks, Karras Consulting’s website says: “A thorough background check is critical because it provides an overarching picture of the behavioral pattern of the candidate. It is our practice to go beyond references listed on the resume. We find that candidate supplied references provide less balanced information about the candidate than information acquired from other supervisors, peers and subordinates. We go deeper, and consequently provide a more complete picture of each candidate’s strengths and challenges.”

The next chief will earn nearly $183,000 a year. A recruiting announcement lists “accountable” as one of the criteria for the new chief, but makes little mention about the activities around police work that the city is undertaking, including the reimagining public safety initiative; a study of police protocols and crowd control responses during demonstrations in 2020; council-mandated work by the city manager to develop a public safety plan to “protect the community from the rising threat of domestic terrorism and white supremacist extremism”; and its new Social Justice and Equity Advisory Commission. All are expected to give reports and make recommendations by the end of this year. 

Said Parshley in her social media post: “We have an opportunity to redefine what public safety means in our community, especially what it means to BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and others traditionally marginalized by the system. We have an opportunity to make Olympia’s public safety system just and equitable … I’m committed, and I know our city manager and my fellow councilmembers are too, to hiring the kind of person who will help us bring about a new way of doing business in our city that is fair, just, and inclusive.”

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By Mindy Chambers

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