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Jonesboro panel to review police chief applications

Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox said it will be another month and a half before the city has its next permanent police chief, now that a panel –– which includes the mayor and two city council members –– has been chosen to review the 26 applications for the position.

Maddox formed the panel at the Jonesboro City Council meeting on Monday, and got to appoint one member of the council to serve on it with him. He chose Councilman Wallace Norrington. The city council got to appoint the other panel member. Councilman Clarence Mann recommended his colleague, Bobby Wiggins, to fill that spot.

The panel will sort through the applications to create a short list of candidates to interview for the position. "It's going to probably be six weeks from now before we will be able to name a police chief," Maddox said. "We'll bring the city council at least five people to interview for the position."

Based on the timeline for naming a new chief given by Maddox, it is possible that Jonesboro could wind up having had four police chiefs in under a year. The number of chiefs may stay at three, however, as the police department's interim chief, Lt. Wayne Woods, said after Monday's meeting that he has applied for the permanent job.

Maddox said the panel will use a grading rubric to evaluate candidates in areas such as experience and training, and the candidates with the highest scores will be submitted to the city council for interviews.

Last May, former Police Chief Brad Johnson was fired by Maddox, who said, at the time, that the former chief had not successfully completed a probationary period. Johnson had been suspended by the mayor, prior to his firing, for wearing blue jeans on the job, and for acts that Maddox deemed as being disrespectful to the Office of Mayor.

Following Johnson's firing, there was public debate on whether Maddox, or council members, were micromanaging the department. The mayor, and several council members, have denied that assertion, however.

Then-Maj. Tim Jessup was named the city's interim police chief after Johnson's firing, and subsequently made permanent chief in early December. Jessup, however, resigned five weeks later, to take a position with the Clayton County Sheriff's Office. On Jan. 11, Woods was named the department's new interim police chief.

Longevity will be one of several factors looked at by some, if not all, members of the panel. After the city council meeting on Monday, Maddox and Norrington said they will consider the likelihood that a candidate will stay with the Jonesboro Police Department for awhile. Wiggins could not be reached for comment following the meeting.

The mayor said he, and the city council, will "do our best" to pick a long-term police chief. Maddox said he and his fellow panel members will try to weed out candidates who do not seem to stay in one job for too long. "Nobody's got a good crystal ball," Maddox said. "We'll look to see if they've jumped around a lot from job to job, in the past."

Norrington said the issue of a candidate's longevity in previous positions will be tied to another factor he and Maddox plan to look at: How much law enforcement experience he, or she, has. "Longevity means a lot of experience," Norrington said.

On Monday, the council heard from one former city official, former Mayor Joy Day, who urged the city council to stay out of the day-to-day operations of the police department.

"Let the police run the police department, not certain members of the city council," Day said. "Let the mayor supervise the department, but let the chief run it. If you think enough of the person to hire them for the position, then let them do their job."

In other action, the city council voted 6-0 to move $75,968 from the city's general fund to the 2009 budget, to make up for shortfalls from revenues collected through business licenses and court fines.

The council also voted 5-0-1 in favor of a resolution to fund a referendum in November on whether package stores should be allowed in the city, if 35 percent of the city's registered voters sign petitions asking for such a vote. Norrington abstained from the vote, saying he wanted to see if 35 percent of the voters would sign a petition.