Police chief's search flawed, committee members say

By Justin Boron

Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie did not conduct background checks before narrowing the search for a police chief to the final three candidates, said a member of the citizen review committee that interviewed each candidate.

The lack of background checks was one of the shortcomings that raised questions about the manner in which Jessie handled the search, the committee member said.

Roland Downing, who was appointed to the review committee by City Council member Wanda Wallace, said he questioned Jessie's approach to the selection process and felt that a look into the finalists' work history should have been conducted before the interviews.

"Had the information on the candidates' work history been given to me, I wouldn't have talked to any one of these people," he said.

Iris Jessie did not take calls Thursday morning although city employees said she was present in her office.

She could not be reached Thursday afternoon because she was taking leadership classes, a city employee said.

Downing's criticism comes one day after a probe into the candidates' work history produced evidence of personnel conflicts in two of the candidates.

Nathaniel Clark, who lives in Atlanta, was reportedly fired after an Equal Employment Opportunity report alleged sexual harassment in the Pine Bluff, Ark. police department.

Clark confirmed the allegations but deferred all comments to his attorney Darrell O'Neal because of pending litigation.

Calling from Memphis, Tenn., O'Neal called the allegations "completely false," saying the investigation was flawed.

O'Neal claimed to have exculpatory testimony and affidavits for a civil suit to be scheduled in the Pine Bluff division of the eastern district court.

"These types of things should not affect his chances for the job," he said.

Another applicant, Charles Long, was demoted from assistant police chief for a personnel matter that the City of Huntersville, N.C. would not disclose.

Repeated attempts to reach Long at home and at the Huntersville Police Department failed.

The third applicant was Atlanta deputy police chief Thetus Knox.

No Background Handicapped Committee

The review committee appointed to make recommendations about the finalists had insufficient information needed to ascertain the applicants' qualifications, rendering the interviews useless in Downing's mind.

"It was completely a waste of time," Downing said. "I did not see the value of having a citizens review if we did not have the necessary information.

The committee did little to narrow down the field, he said, citing the almost identical ratings of each candidate.

Candidates were rated on a 30-point scale, Downing said. Two candidates made a 27 and one made a 26.

Downing could not say which applicant made the lower score.

Despite his reservations about the committee's significance, he said he was not trying to undercut Jessie's authority.

"The decision is left up entirely to the city manager . . . It's her authority," Downing said.

Community members anxious about chief position

The revelations about the two male finalists work history have caused concern in some community members and elected officials.

City Council member Rick Scoggins said it would be "a great concern" of his, but declined to comment further until he could investigate the new information.

Eldrin Bell, the Democratic nominee for the Clayton County commission chairman, took interest in the situation when he found that one of his former co-workers in the Atlanta Police Department was in the running.

"Thetus Knox worked for me from when she was a sergeant until she was a major," he said.

Bell cautioned the Riverdale officials against considering candidates with questionable pasts.

"When you hire a candidate with a questionable background you buy the question. You buy the potential liability," he said.