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Chief decision in manager's hands

By Justin Boron

Despite calls to re-evaluate the selection process for police chief, the Riverdale City Manager is expected to disclose her choice at tonight's council meeting. The decision would come amid a whirlwind of controversy spurred by the revelation that at least two of the final three candidates have questionable employment backgrounds.

To complicate the matter further, at least one member of the candidate review committee has called the selection process flawed because background checks were not conducted before narrowing the field of possible candidates.

City Manager Iris Jessie has been unavailable for comment since reports surfaced Thursday that indicate one of the final candidates, Nathaniel Clark, was accused of sexual harassment in his previous job as Pine Bluff, Ark. police chief. Clark's attorney, Darrell O'Neal, called the allegations false, emphasizing that pending litigation would clear Clark of any sexual misconduct.

Additional findings revealed that another finalist, Charles Long, had been suspended at his current job in the Huntersville, N.C. police department. The suspension, which resulted in his demotion from assistant chief, was shadowed by a tenuous work relationship with the city government, according to Huntersville Herald news reports. Long has not returned repeated messages left at his home or work. City of Atlanta Deputy Chief Thetus Knox is the third finalist. The weight of the recent developments has prompted City Council member Michelle Bruce to express her desire to slow down the selection process.

Bruce said more research should be done before a decision is made for police chief.

"This position is a more critical type position," she said. "We have to have this whole situation cleared up. Based on the reports, we have to take it slow; you've got to make sure you do everything."

Bruce stopped short of recommending a wholesale overhaul of the selection process, saying Jessie deserved a right to explain herself.

But she questioned the ability to overlook such important background items as sexual harassment.

"If you're a credible employer, you definitely want to do your homework. Everybody makes mistakes, but in the same token when we picked Iris Jessie, we went through a process," Bruce said.

Possible missteps in the selection process surfaced when a member of the citizen review committee, which interviewed each of finalists, came forward to say that no background checks were conducted before the three candidates were brought to them.

Roland Downing, a citizen selected to the committee by Council member Wanda Wallace, said he expressed concern to Jessie about the way she was handling the process when she called the committee about three weeks ago.

Downing said he questioned the reliability of the committee's recommendations without the necessary background information. He also said he had doubts about the committee's usefulness since it had no official bearing over Jessie's decision.

Other Council members have demonstrated a great deal of reticence on the issue, restricting themselves to short statements before deferring to Jessie for comment. Council member Kenny Ruffin said it was Jessie's decision.

Ruffin even came close to accepting the candidates' background.

"Everybody has something in their past," he said.

Council member Rick Scoggins would not say if he favored delaying the selection of the police chief. But did stress the importance of the situation. "Any decision that's going to be made will be critical," he said.