A majority of the Elgin City Council stated they want the next police chief to be promoted from within, with one council member publicly endorsing a current commander.
The decision ultimately rests with City Manager Rick Kozal, who told staff members via email last week that he agrees that "in-house talent provides the greatest assurance" for maintaining the department's high standards.
Council members Tish Powell and Rich Dunne asked for the discussion Wednesday night, saying they advocate opening the interview process to external candidates. Councilman Corey Dixon agreed with them, while Mayor David Kaptain and council members John Steffen, Toby Shaw, Rose Martinez and Terry Gavin said they believe it's best to promote from within. Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger said she'd be OK either way.
Police Chief Jeff Swoboda left earlier this month and Bill Wolf was appointed interim chief. Several council members said this is a critical time for Elgin and its police department in the wake of the fatal police shooting of resident Decynthia Clements in March. A state police investigation is pending.
Powell said she wanted to have the discussion in May but was advised to wait until Swoboda left. In retrospect, that was "not the best thing" because the city now is losing Wolf, "who would have been a very strong contender," she said.
The city council was informed earlier this month that Wolf is taking a job as deputy chief in Schaumburg, although there has been no official confirmation from Wolf or the village.
The department's commanders are Ana Lalley, who was named acting deputy chief by Kozal and has seniority over commanders Colin Fleury and Al Young.
Shaw endorsed Lalley as his pick for chief. He agreed that the city is "at a critical point in policing," but said casting a wide net only would make it harder to properly weed out candidates. "We do not have the luxury of spending six to eight months interviewing people, bringing them in and doing some sort of showcase," he said.
If a commander is appointed chief, that would trigger promotions up through the ranks, Kaptain pointed out.
Dixon said Lalley is "more than qualified," but an open search is needed.
"We had something happen in our community that we are forced to think about, and think twice about, when it comes to the decision of who we put at the head of the police department," he said.
The top leadership of the police department is diverse and highly qualified, and hiring from the outside would hurt morale, Gavin said.
Dunne pointed out that a past well-respected police chief, Charles Gruber, came from Indiana.
Powell said she respects the majority's opinion but believes that it's important to have a discussion about which attributes and vision the next chief should have before a selection is made. "That's basic HR (human resources)," she said.